Bethel City Council Fires City Manager Pete Williams

Apr 24, 2019

The Bethel City Manager's empty desk.
Credit Greg Kim / KYUK

The Bethel City Council fired City Manager Pete Williams Tuesday night. Council members were sharply divided in a 4 to 3. Voting for Williams to go were Mayor Fred Watson, Vice Mayor Raymond “Thor” Williams, and council members Fritz Charles and Carole Jung-Jordan. Voting for Williams to stay were council members Leif Albertson, Perry Barr, and Mitchell Forbes.

It started as a quarterly evaluation, then council member Charles made a motion: “I move to terminate the contract of the city manager.”

Charles cited what he characterized as Williams’ lack of fiscal responsibility. He asked, “Did I join up the city council meeting just to do budget modifications? Every meeting, every meeting.”

The city council sets a budget every June for the whole year, and when the city manager finds that the city should spend more money on certain projects than planned, he needs to get approval from council. 

Council member Carole Jung-Jordan found other faults with Williams’ management.

“I don’t feel like you’ve done a really good job of managing crucial departments within the city, that being finance and streets and roads,” said Jung-Jordan. “I think there are some big problems with the federal taxes, and people don’t really know about it.”

Jung-Jordan also accused Williams of unspecified violations of the Bethel Municipal Code.

Some council members in favor of dismissing Williams went further than criticizing his abilities. Mayor Fred Watson named a time that Williams lied about following municipal code when procuring fill for a city dump.

“Those were your exact words,” said Watson. “Code was followed. Come to find out code was not followed.” 

Council member Forbes found the claims against Williams flimsy. Instead, he said that Williams was doing a “good job,” and that council members were being unrealistic.

“This council does not have a good view of what a city manager should do, and it seems like Pete has been held to a standard that he cannot meet,” said Forbes.

Forbes asserted that the action against Williams appeared to stem from “personal vendettas,” and Forbes feared for the financial future of the $32 million in loans and grants that Williams oversees for funding city projects.

Council member Albertson gave Williams a glowing review. He worries that the Williams’ termination could imperil the city’s relationship with its funders, and he's got concerns about replacing Williams. 

“I think it’s going to be especially hard to fill this position after trying to explain to new applicants what happened to Pete,” said Albertson.

Council member Perry Barr also praised Williams’ work and called the motion to terminate him “ridiculous” and “a momentous mistake.”

“Pete, I apologize. I’m sorry that this council has treated you in this manner,” said Barr.

Barr, Albertson, and Forbes each said that they were “embarrassed” by the council’s actions.

The abruptness of the council's action drew concern from legal counsel. As soon as council member Charles filed the motion to terminate Williams’ employment, City Attorney Patty Burley objected. “To terminate, he is entitled to due process of law. What are the allegations? And an opportunity to defend those allegations,” she said.

Mayor Watson decided that allowing Williams to respond during the evaluation was due process enough. The discussion lasted just under an hour, and City Manager Williams said very little. He addressed some of the allegations against him. He said that budget modifications come up because of the current budgeting process, then he delivered his final words to the Bethel City Council.

“I don’t think I’ve shined anybody on,” said Williams. “I’m not perfect, and I don’t think any one of you up there could do any better.”

After adjournment, Williams left the building. Now Bethel has no city manager.