Last week Page city manager Mike Celaya terminated the employment of three city employees: Economic development coordinator Lexie Woodward, community enhancement technician Aaron Bixler and community development director Kim Johnson. All three worked in some capacity in the city’s community development department.
The three were paid any accrued vacation time but not given a severance, said Woodward.
In an email Celaya told the Chronicle that “the issues surrounding individuals mentioned is still an on-going personnel issue and I’m not able to comment at this time.”
City attorney Josh Smith said the city’s position on the firings is, “We’re not making any comment.”
Woodward said that one of the reasons cited for her termination was that Celaya told her she didn’t seem happy in her job. Woodward says she was very happy with her job.
Arizona is a right to work state and employers, whether private sector or government, can fire employees at will.
Woodward shared her termination letter on Facebook last week. The letter, dated Aug. 20, read, “As per the City Personnel Manual, Section 14.1 and State Law (A.R.S. & 23-1501) all employees are at will-employees. Please be advised effective immediately your employment with the City of Page is being terminated.”
Fired employees are allowed a pre-determination hearing. Woodward and Bixler say they plan to go forward with their pre-determination hearing. Johnson hasn’t said if she will or will not request a pre-determination hearing.
During the pre-determination hearing the city will likely hire a hearing officer, but Smith said he and the city are still working out those details. The hearing officer won’t represent either side but during the hearing the hearing officer will play the role of the judge, or independent moderator.
Woodward’s and Johnson’s departures will leave several city projects in limbo, at least for the time being. Woodward was instrumental in Page’s recent comprehensive housing study which was conducted at the city’s request by Michael Baker International, a firm that provides development, engineering and smart growth solutions for city’s struggling with growth issues. Woodward’s main role was coordinating efforts between the city and Michael Baker International. She was the one who applied for and received the grant that paid for the study.
Woodward was also heavily involved with the city’s zoning code update and its downtown and block 17 revitalization and beautification plan. She had just put out a draft Request for Proposals before her termination.
Woodward recently attended a tourism conference sponsored by the Arizona Office of Tourism during which they discussed, among many things, how to “be China ready.”
The entire state of Arizona has seen a large increase in tourists from China who often have their own way of doing things and interacting with the residents of the towns they visit.
Woodward said she was in the process of preparing a program that would help the city implement some of those ideas with Page’s business community.
Woodward also does the marketing for the Balloon Regatta, and working with the Arizona Office of Tourism to find ways to do national advertising for Page, much of which would be paid for by the state.
In a communication with the Chronicle, Woodward said, “I would like all the partners, members of the public, advertisers, Community Development Advisory Board Members, etc. to know that I’m sorry that they’re being left hanging, and that I am no longer working with them. It was my pleasure.”