By Jack Mayne

When Des Moines City Manager Michael Matthias personally and publicly ordered longtime Senior Services Director Sue Padden out of the senior center at lunch hour on June 14 – just days before her retirement after 22 years with the city – he set off a confrontation that seems inevitably to lead to lawsuits and more recriminations.

The issue came bubbling to the surface on Thursday (June 28) as the now-retired Padden, along with representatives of the Des Moines Legacy Foundation she helped start 20 years ago, and a former City Councilmember all lined up for an hour of challenge to the city manager at the Des Moines City Council meeting.

Sue Padden

Padden: I’m innocent
Padden defended herself as innocent of all wrongdoing. Some details emerged in the case but most kept details confidential because of the pending investigation. The public still does not know what precipitated her suspension, but indications are it is connected with an earlier city charge that someone had erased documents from the city’s main computer. Matthias nor any city official would say if Padden was involved.

No charges have been filed in any court and only only general allegations have been leveled at Padden. The matter is being investigated by the Washington state auditors office, per state law in such cases.

Brian Snure

Legacy director upset
Brian Snure, member of the board of directors of the Des Moines Legacy Foundation, said that if anything he said that was emotional and inappropriate, it was because “it’s all coming from my heart,” and “I am here tonight because I am really upset” over the changes in management the city has made in the management of the Senior Center, referring to Padden.

“I am upset about the way the city management has gone about destroying — I mean destroying the relationship between the Legacy Foundation and the city and the community that we serve,” Snure said during the public comment period.

“There has been a complete lack of communication, discussion and process from city management regarding recent events,” Snure said. The Des Moines Legacy Foundation was formed in 1999 to “perform services, programs, equipment and other materials critical to our parks, recreation and senior services when city funds are not available to fund those programs,” Snure told the Council.

“That is all what we do as a Legacy Foundation.”

Non-profit city supporter
Legacy is a non-profit, tax exempt foundation and “we are not a city department,” Snure said. “But for 18 years, the Legacy Foundation and the city have worked as partners. The City Council has supported the Legacy Foundation, the city administration has supported the Legacy Foundation. The city has authorized the city staff to work with the Legacy Foundation, to serve on the Legacy board, to work on Legacy events and importantly, to support Legacy and its various fund raising projects … it has been a partnership.”

Snure said the city and the foundation has raised $1.7 million over the years and of the money has been and will in the future be spent on parks, recreation and senior services programs run by the city “where you don’t have enough money to fully fund the programs .…” All the foundation does is collect money and present the program or the scholarships. “That is what we do.”

“Now, suddenly, we are under investigation … without any prior communication,” Snure said, adding the foundation had to contact the city “after all the rumors floating around, after what is going on with the city staff, after the city manager’s comments at the meeting a couple of weeks ago, we reached out.”

Then the foundation got a letter from “the city’s investigator” who advised that the “city is concerned that funds intended for the city were misappropriated to the legacy foundation,” Snure told the Council. “I don’t understand what that means, all the money we raise goes back to the city …”

All money supports city
“We are told the misappropriation concerns (are) based on city employees encouraging citizens to donate the the Legacy Foundation instead of the city,” Snure said. “But that is what we have done for 18 years together,” Snure said. The money is raised to support city activities and “if that is considered misappropriation, then I don’t know what I am talking about.”

Snure said the foundation was told that the involvement of city employees was “a conflict of interest and opportunities for misappropriation.”

Opportunities, reconsider
“What opportunities?” Snure asked. “Opportunities to raise money to give back to the kids and the seniors to support the programs you provide? I know I don’t have all the information. Maybe you all have information that I am unaware of?”

That, said Snure, is the point and that information should be provided to the foundation.

“I would just ask you reconsider the path you have taken. Our reputation has being damaged and that is going to affect very strongly to get volunteers which directly supports what we are all here for and that is to support kids, seniors and he programs the city struggles to provide,” said Snure.

Padden ‘Morally aghast’
Sue Padden told Councilmembers that “after 22 years at the City of Des Moines, for one more day until I retire tomorrow (June 29, 2018) I’m still a public servant, still the senior services manager for the City of Des Moines.” She had handed a copy of a “reply letter” to Councilmembers regarding the city manager’s charges against me.”

“I am morally aghast and deeply saddened at the city manager’s backroom process of filling my position. The city council executive sessions held to discuss charges against me and my relationship with the Des Moines Legacy Foundation, along with the city’s expense of hard earned tax dollars to pay a third party investigator which appear to be an inefficient use of precious resources. These actions are creating a reduction of public trust on many citizens here in Des Moines.

The recent actions against me and statements to me and the Senior Center staff did not have to be vindictive and petty, but they were.

I am an employee of honesty, honor and integrity and I have proudly supported the senior citizens and our many partnerships in this community and they have supported me.

I want to express my sincere thanks to the many, many citizens, the local and county agencies serving older adults and several city employees who have sent me letters, cards, emails, flowers, along with phone calls these past two weeks. Your thanks, your belief and support of my integrity and honoring me with well well wishes I deeply appreciate the kind words and your support. Thank you.

Lack of transparency
“Michael, you have just not been around here that long,” former Councilmember Susan White said. “I honestly feel there is a lack of transparency in process that’s going on in the city. I know you are the city manager and that is what you are charged to do. But to treat am employee with so much integrity and the Legacy Foundation … that raised money when the city didn’t have any money to provide programs.

“You don’t get it … I’m sorry but I don’t think you do,” White said. “It makes me cry looking at Sue Padden thinking she is going out like this.

Patricia Clark, of the Legacy Foundation, said she is “standing here simply to support the Legacy Foundation. I think we have been treated badly. I am also here to support Sue who has given 20-odd years of her life to this city and has been treated abysmally.”

Parks Recreation and Senior Services Director Patrice Thorell, in her last day before retiring, said she has been with the city for nearly 24 years and “it has been a fabulous career.” She said she was one of the founding members of the Legacy Foundation in 1999. She said the mission of the foundation was to promote charitable giving tools for the changing needs of the Des Moines community, “which are many.”

Driver lauds Padden
Retiring Des Moines Senior Services Manager Sue Padden was lauded by Alan Masterson, a 12 year volunteer senior services driver for the Hyde Shuttle volunteer program and who regularly stops at the senior center. He told the Des Moines Council that he recently saw Padden moving her personal effects from the Senior Center to her car under the view of City Manager Michael Matthias.

“I found that that Sue had been suspended from her position and was being walked off city property,” Masterson said. “At the June 7 Council proceedings, Sue was praised universally by the Council member for her 22 years of dedicated service.”

Masterson said his often at the Senior Center but has never before seen the city manager there and there was no human resources representative present when Padden was suspended, said Masterson and Center staff was told not to comment on the situation.

“Why did the city manager choose to take this action when the center was full of clients? What message was sent to the over 50 people there for lunch after Sue’s 22 years of service?” he asked the Council. A celebration for Padden was slated for the next day, but had to be moved to “a different center because of this action,” said Masterson. Padden has not been “treated well.”

“I just think it is a sad thing,” he said.

‘Very Shabby’
Resident John McEvoy said he at the Senior Center when “she was waltzed out the door at the Senior Center in front of everybody, I was there. I was taken a bit by surprise so asked Michael (Matthias) ‘did you ask her to leave and he said no, he didn’t.’ That wasn’t true, was it Michael?” Matthias said later he asked a different question than then McEvoy remembers, a question he properly answered.

“Anyway, I think the way she was handled was very, very shabby” and in his past businesses “I never, ever would treat any of my employees the way you were treated, Sue,” McEvoy said.