The future of Maplewood City Manager Greg Copeland is on the line Monday night, when the City Council is expected to take the first steps toward removing him from the job.
Copeland was named city manager in 2006, after a controversial ouster of previous city manager Richard Fursman. Critics from the start said Copeland lacked the qualifications to be a city manager. Mayor Diana Longrie, who had recruited him, and the then-council majority insisted he was the right man for the job.
Council Member Will Rossbach, who opposed the hiring two years ago, put an item on Monday's agenda calling for "consideration of process options available for replacement of a city manager."
"The city manager job is the most important job in the city of Maplewood," Rossbach said. "Both Mr. Copeland's résumé and the information brought forward on a city background check ... indicated he was a person without the education or experience to manage a city with a $37 million budget.''
Copeland did not return repeated phone calls. But Longrie roundly defended the city manager, saying résumés and paid work experience are not the only way to measure a person's skills. Life experience should count too, she said.
"I meet a lot of citizens about a lot of issues,'' Longrie said. "I've heard so many positive comments about the city manager. If citizens have a good experience when they call City Hall, it's proof in the pudding that he's doing a good job."
The Monday council meeting is the first working meeting of the politically reconfigured City Council.
John Nephew has replaced former council member Rebecca Cave, who was defeated in the November elections. With four council members and the mayor voting, the 3-2 majority no longer is aligned with the mayor.
Nephew and Council Member Kathleen Juenemann said they side with Rossbach in seeking a new city manager. Council Member Erik Hjelle said he opposes the move.
Nephew said Maplewood voters in November signaled a desire to end the acrimony that has plagued City Hall in recent years.
"I think people spoke loudly,'' he said. "They want change."
Copeland's appointment as interim city manager in April 2006 was controversial from the start. The council, claiming professional differences with Fursman, needed to hire an interim director before they could fire Fursman, Longrie said. So the mayor called some people she thought would be qualified and interested in the job, she said.
Longrie said she called five people, and Copeland was the only one to ask for a copy of the city budget. She was impressed with that, she said, as well as Copeland's background serving on commissions and civic organizations in St. Paul.
In July 2006, the council voted to make Copeland the permanent city manager. That process did not allow for the best candidates to come forward and did not follow standard practices used by cities, Rossbach and Juenemann have argued.
Typically, city managers are selected through a recruitment process, said Tom Grundhoefer, general counsel at the League of Minnesota Cities. And often candidates are promoted from within city ranks.
But hiring practices vary, he said, and there is no prescribed process required by statute.
When he became city manager, his résumé listed him as a consultant on government relations, public relations and marketing. Before that, he was an insurance agent from 1987 to 1992. Earlier, he held staff positions as a public relations specialist and as a deputy director of an anti-poverty agency in Florida.
Although his résumé doesn't list experience working for a city government, he was a member, including chairman for a time, of the St. Paul Charter Commission and a vice chairman of the St. Paul Capital Improvement Budget Committee, the résumé states. He also did considerable volunteer work with St. Paul groups, including the Payne Phalen District Five Planning Council and the Energy Cents Coalition.
Longrie said Copeland's ties to St. Paul were an important asset because Maplewood is a first ring suburb of the city.
It's unclear what steps the council will take Monday.
"I want to make sure I have all the facts before we say, 'You're fired,'" Rossbach said.
Jon Brandt is among the Maplewood residents planning to attend Monday's meeting. He said he voted for the candidates campaigning for change, and now he wants to see whether that change actually happens. Given the drama that surrounds Maplewood politics, it should be an interesting evening, he said.
"I think the council chambers will be packed,'' he said.
Jean Hopfensperger • 651-298-1553