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Our Opinion: Lame reasons, reckless timing surround firing

Make no mistake; the firing of Jefferson City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus was a bad move.

The reasons for termination were lame and the timing was reckless.

The 10-member council, at the urging of Mayor Eric Struemph, voted 8-2 during Monday’s closed session to fire Nickolaus. The opposing votes were cast by 3rd Ward Councilman Ken Hussey and 4th Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll.

The vote followed a standard performance evaluation for Nickolaus.

Although the city’s news release cited no specific reasons for the action, Carroll said Nickolaus was blamed for including floating holidays for city employees in his proposed budget, insufficient promotion of the conference center and failure to plant more positive stories in the press.

That is among the weakest justification we have heard in a long time.

Don’t get us wrong. We have been among the most vocal critics of actions taken by Nickolaus.

We have faulted Nickolaus for what we believe was an improper closed session to replace the position of finance director with that of an assistant city administrator.

We also questioned the propriety of a memo from the administrator to city employees regarding a ballot issue, and — most recently — we criticized a city Facebook posting by Nickolaus supporting the governor’s veto of a state tax cut.

But — and this is important — we never have doubted Nickolaus’s loyalty to Jefferson City or his intent to act in the best interests of our city.

No one who acts in the highly visible, multi-faceted role of city administrator — accountable to an elected mayor and 10 council members — can serve without missteps.

In addition to the injustice of the firing itself, the timing is reckless.

The termination of Nickolaus marks the fourth vacancy among department heads. The finance, public works and fire departments have an interim leader or no director, the communications manager is vacant, and adding the interim city administrator title to City Attorney Drew Hilpert will divide his efforts between doubled duties.

Morale among city employees is said to be dismal, and an exodus among city staff is feared.

We call upon the mayor and the eight council members who voted for termination to explain publicly the reasons for their action.

Firing the city’s top administrator may prove to be a monumental mistake. For the sake of Jefferson City, we hope the consequences will not be too severe.

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