The heat of Tuesday’s general election had barely started to simmer down when Brookings Mayor Jake Pieper asked city budget committee member Teresa Lawson — who ran against him in the general election — and tourism advisory board member Candice Michel to resign from their posts.
Both declined, and Pieper has put the request on the city council’s Nov. 13 agenda.
Pieper cited in an email to Lawson Wednesday night that “the finances platform that you chose to run on has left you, I believe, unable to approach the city’s budget with an unbiased position,” Pieper said in the resignation request.
“I said the city budget needs more detailed review from the committee,” Lawson said of her comments during candidate forums. “I am troubled by the current mayor using his political position against his political opponent, without just cause. This is not an example of fair and balanced democracy. I am publicly asking Mayor Pieper to retract what I consider a misguided request for my resignation.”
To Michel, he wrote, “Over the past several months, on more than one occasion, you have made public comments at city council meetings that were inappropriate for a city committee appointee. Disagreements and passionate civil discourse are valuable things, but railing against city leadership in the fashion that you chose was unacceptable. I showed restraint in waiting until after the election and (now) will ask for your resignation.”
She said Friday she had no idea what comments he might be referencing.
Pieper, who initiated the appointment of both women, said that during an Aug. 3 meeting, Michel showed “disdain for Brookings city government and leadership.
“You cannot sit on a city council-appointed commission and undermine the city council and our staff,” he said. (Candice) Michel’s (comments) were unprecedented. There’s been only other time we’ve removed someone off a committee and it was for disruptions far less than what she did.
“Teresa is the same,” he continued. “She ran a platform on poor financial management during her campaign, and it’s appropriate now that the election’s over, that she resign.”
“Poor financial management?” Lawson said. “I said we need more scrutiny; we need to be more careful. In February (budget meetings), I shut down more than $100,000 they were ready to approve, and the $10.9 million loan coming up needs to be reviewed. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, but I haven’t seen the level of questioning (needed). It’s just rubber-stamped on the part of the city.”
Pieper said he will propose one or two others, whom he declined to name, resign from other committees, as well.
“I showed restraint by waiting until after the election,” Pieper said. “It’s bad for morale. We’re the appointing authority and you can’t undermine the city and expect to be part of the team. The voters spoke loud and clear during the election; it’s over and the jury’s in. I’m not going to put up with it. I want to move forward.”
Michel and Lawson have no intention of resigning, they said.
“I am not going to resign,” Michel said in a Tourism Promotion Advisory Committee meeting Thursday afternoon. “He said if I didn’t, he would bring it to the city manager to put it on the next city agenda. I said, well, you’re going to have to fire me.”
“We feel that Jake Pieper’s request is an assault on our First Amendment rights and the local equivalent of using one’s political power and office to punish political opponents and their supporters,” Lawson said. “Jake’s request for my resignation is, in my opinion, going low and an abuse of power.”
“I want to sit down and talk to Jake and work with him,” Lawson added. “If anything I said during the campaign was factually wrong, I’d welcome a chance to sit face to face with Jake and or (City Manager) Janell (Howard) and show me how I’m wrong and I’ll explain where I’m coming from.
“I don’t take back anything I said. I intended on moving forward in a positive manner. I guess Jake’s the winner, but a sore loser.”