Joplin's city manager, Sam Anselm, left the job on Monday in what the mayor said was a mutually agreeable decision with the council to resign and receive severance pay.
Mayor Gary Shaw, asked if the council fired Anselm or asked for his resignation, said the decision was reached over time in discussions between the council and Anselm.
"We sat down and we had talked over where we had been, where we are, and where we wanted to go," Shaw said. "Things seem to take their courses over time and I think Sam was feeling it was time for him to have a different course and we thought it was time for us to have a different course."
Anselm's resignation was unanimously accepted and the severance contract approved during a closed meeting of the City Council on Monday night, according to a statement issued by the city Tuesday morning.
The mayor said the council gave Anselm severance pay out of recognition for his work through a difficult time for Joplin in the aftermath of a tornado.
"Sam was with us through some difficult times. We agreed to that (the severance) because of the efforts he had put forth to this point."
That agreement states that Anselm was a contracted employee whose departure "will be considered a resignation. Although (the) employee is not otherwise entitled to severance benefits for a resignation, city will pay certain severance benefits in consideration of employee's execution of this release and resignation."
He was given the agreement in writing far enough in advance to consult an attorney about the terms if he chose, according to the document.
Anselm, who earned $3,040 a week, will continue to be paid for up to seven months or until he finds another job. He also will be paid to maintain his family health and dental insurance for that period of time and for unused vacation time and floating holidays. If he files for unemployment, the city will not oppose it under the contract terms.
Under additional terms of the severance, Anselm agrees to assist the city with information about city matters if needed. Both sides also agreed not to make any statements to criticize or disparage the other.
Communication issues in questionnaire
At a recent strategic meeting that involved input from council and city senior staff, comments from the city's senior staff were disclosed in which they cited a need for improved communication and common goals among city departments.
Robert Heacock, a consultant paid $6,800 to conduct a visioning process for the city's future, visited Joplin and interviewed senior staff members about their views and priorities in advance. He also took a survey of council members on the same questions. The two sets of answers were compared at that meeting and some council comments during the session indicated that the city's policy making body was unaware of those staff concerns.
City staff said departments are "siloed," meaning they were isolated from each other and did not share input on projects and problems.
There was a consensus among the staff answers on the questionnaire that there needs to be an overarching vision along with goals set that are understood by all departments and management so that the organization has a common purpose. All departments need to know the major projects each are working on and share information about how they can help each other support that work and the overall needs of the community, staff members said.
The mayor, asked if those comments contributed to Anselm's departure, said, "There was feelings and thoughts on both sides before that (meeting). It's like everything we do in life, one thing affects other things, and sometimes you get to the realization that it's time to change.
"I think any time you are working together and you keep trying things, you come to a point of trying to do something differently," Shaw said. "Sam is young and he's been faithful on the job. He's got a bright future ahead of him."
But, the council agreed at the March 1 session that the city needs to create a new vision to guide future projects and priorities.
Anselm did not respond to Globe questions about what led to his departure. He provided this statement:
"I'm immensely proud of the work we have accomplished in the nearly eight years I've been with the city and I'm grateful for the opportunity to have served as city manager since 2014."
Record of service
When he came to Joplin, Anselm was assigned to oversee many of the city's day to day operations, with a focus on human resources and customer service. After the disaster, he was assigned to coordinate the work of AmeriCorps and other service agencies that brought thousands of volunteers to help with clean up and home repair.
Since he was named city manager, he has overseen the work to carry out the city's budget for spending federal recovery funding to meet the September 2019 deadline to spend all of the $113 million of a second round of federal tornado grant money for public repairs and assistance. A small amount will be left from a first grant of $45 million, but no deadline is attached to spending that money.
In addition to that, Anselm's tenure included attempts to resolve wage disputes by the city's police and fire unions. Anselm and city staff conducted salary studies that led to wage increases and discussions on how to pay for the raises.
Anselm eventually recommended using funds from the public safety sales tax to pay for those raises after voters rejected a use tax proposal city officials had hoped could go for that purpose.
Though many of the city issues such as wages and the attempt to put professional baseball in Joe Becker have produced public controversy, Anselm said his time spent here was rewarding.
"My family and I will cherish the friendships we've made and the many positive memories of our time here," Anselm said in his statement. He thanked the current and past council members who he said believed in him and city staff whom he said "made it a pleasure to come to work every day. And good luck to the community as you forge a new path into the future."
After the February 2014 firing of his boss, Mark Rohr, Anselm served as interim manager nine months while the council conducted a search for a new manager. He then was selected from four finalists for the job and his promotion was announced Nov. 17, 2014. He has a master's degree in public administration.
Anselm came to Joplin from Ferguson. There he coordinated the city's economic development effort and oversaw the management of human resources, information technology and community relations.
Before moving to Ferguson, he worked as the volunteer specialist in human resources at the city of St. Peter’s. Anselm was responsible for recruitment, training and supervision of 500 volunteers, administering customer service programs and annual salary plans for St. Peter’s. He had previously worked in the city's purchasing department.