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City manager's future on council agenda

A proposal to review the employment of City Manager Jerry Ihler and to set the membership and guidelines for a city charter review committee will top the agenda when the City Council meets today.

The session will begin at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Lawton City Hall, Southwest 9th Street and C Avenue.

The discussion of Ihler's employment, set for executive session, is a continuation of a discussion held on the council floor Feb. 27, one that deteriorated into an argument and later prompted Mayor Fred Fitch to direct police to escort Ward 5 Councilman Dwight Tanner from the auditorium. Tanner, who agreed to leave on his own, has since apologized for losing his temper.

Tanner is the council member who made the Feb. 27 motion to terminate Ihler, due to a lack of confidence, and Ward 3 Councilman Caleb Davis, who seconded the motion, said he, too, shared Tanner's "reasonable doubt." The men were critical of problems that have occurred in recent months and what they said was the fact that Ihler had not held city staff accountable for those problems.

The men said those problems include a recently concluded case before the Securities and Exchange Commission because of failure to fulfill all proper disclosure responsibilities (something the city successfully defended), Capital Improvement Program funding that was unaccounted for, and IRS questions about overtime payments made to city employees.

Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk and Fitch said Ihler is being held accountable for things that happened before he was city manager and that council action to fire Ihler will have a detrimental effect on Lawton, both inside the city and to outside entities and on efforts to recruit new job applicants.

The city attorney's office has said council members could not have taken action to fire Ihler Feb. 27 because neither Ihler's contract nor action to terminate his employment was listed on the agenda. Today's discussion will take place in executive session; the state Open Meeting Act allows personnel items to be discussed behind closed doors. Any vote on Ihler would have to take place in open session.

Ihler was named city manager in June 2015 after serving as acting city manager when the council ended its contract with former City Manager Bryan Long. Ihler, who also served as assistant manager, has worked for the city for more than 30 years, including 20 years as the director of the Public Works Department.

In other business, the council  for the third meeting in a row  is being asked to submit the names of residents they want to serve on a charter view committee and to set the guidelines under which that group will operate.

The proposal surfaced after Tanner asked about submitting a question to voters to amend the charter, one that would allow the council to use its powers to create ordinances to set residency requirements for city employees. Tanner has said his focus would be at the supervisory/department head level because he believes those who make decisions for the city should live in Lawton or Comanche County.

Other council members said the council should follow the same process it always uses: appointing a citizens committee to review the charter for potential changes and collecting comments and suggestions from residents. That process was most recently used to create a slate of changes that were approved by residents in 2016. Under the charter, only voters may change its provisions.

The Lawton Constitution

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