Letter written by four Dubuque City Council members made case for city manager's termination

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - In August, four Dubuque city council members wanted to fire the city manager for his handling of sexual harassment complaints, among other reasons.

The Dubuque City Council meets to have a closed session for "professional evaluations" on August 12, 2019. (Charlie Grant, KCRG)

That information is in documents councilmember Jake Rios shared with KCRG-TV9 this week.

The letter is signed by Rios, Brett Shaw, Luis Del Toro, and Kate Larson. Larson has since resigned, Rios did not seek re-election, and Del Toro lost his council seat, leaving only Shaw on the council in January 2020 when new members take their seats.

In this seven-page letter, the four council members list more than a dozen concerns with Michael Van Milligen's leadership. Rios said the most troubling is how the city manager handled a Dubuque police Captain's complaints of sexual harassment.

In June 2019, Abigail Simon sued the City of Dubuque and Police Chief Mark Dalsing, claiming sex discrimination and harassment. Simon claims she was passed over for promotions for male officers.

The council members' letter claims Van Milligen asked the council to approve a new police captain's position in February 2018, specifically to appease Simon. According to the letter, Van Milligen handed out a paper memo to the council explaining why he wanted to create this new position. The letter said, "the memo stated that a new captain's position was warranted and that, had 2 positions been immediately available, the female lieutenant would have been awarded the position." The council was not allowed to keep the memos.

However, it was not until November 2018, seven months after the council approved the new captain's position, that Van Milligen informed the staff about Simon's pending lawsuit.

Rios said Van Milligen withheld information from the council and had he known all of Simon's allegations, Rios says he would not have approved the creation of the new position.

"It felt like to me like it was a bribe. We basically offered this woman a job just so that she wouldn't take us to court. And she did take us to court," Rios said.

The letter also said the city manager handled a sexual harassment case in the fire department poorly.

The council members included quotes from city employee evaluations of the city manager. Those quotes highlight concerns about how Van Milligen treats female employees, with one review saying, "Mike does treat female leaders in the organization different although he doesn't even know how he does this."

Another stated, "perception is male and female managers are judged differently."

Those employee evaluations also highlighted a need for formal, yearly reviews. One employee said, "there are no reviews, you only know if you are doing something wrong and then it is done in a very intimidating and unfriendly matter."

Another review stated, "Mike rarely mentors staff and does not believe in scheduled reviews unless it's of a disciplinary nature."

In a statement, Van Milligen stated, "As City Manager, I intend to respect the State laws governing this process and I intend to respect my fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers of the City of Dubuque."

City Attorney Crenna Brumwell said, "Matters discussed in closed session are confidential by statute and can only be released by court order. Without a court order, I am bound to maintain confidentiality.”

TV9 emailed all other city council members as well as Mayor Roy Buol.

Ric Jones said, "it would be both unethical and illegal for me to comment on pending litigation or personnel issues. Apparently at least one member does not share that concern."

Shaw confirmed the letter's credibility and said that he'd like to speak openly but, "I am prohibited from doing so."

David Resnick deferred to the city attorney's statement.

While Rios has long been critical of the so-called Dubuque "establishment," he said he released this letter to inform citizens of some council members' concerns and to shed light on the August closed sessions in which the council discussed the city manager's contract.