for the Mail Tribune

for the Mail Tribune

PHOENIX — A group of city employees are urging reinstatement of the city's public works director, who was fired suddenly on Saturday.

Eight city employees submitted a letter to the City Council at its meeting Monday night, asking that the city rehire Bob Lewis, who has worked for the city for more than 15 years.

Lewis was placed on administrative leave Friday and, according to employees, was served with a letter of termination Saturday by Phoenix police.

Theresa Syphers, a public works administrative assistant presented the letter protesting Lewis' discharge to the council, saying, "employee morale is at an all-time low."

Mayor Carlos DeBritto declined to comment on the decision, but when asked whether the termination was budget-related, he did say, "Yeah. I would say that everything right now is pretty much budget-related.

"At this point, we're going to go through the budget process and see how that shakes up because that would then show us the direction we would need to go," he added.

Lewis declined further comment, and Jane Turner, city manager, did not immediately return calls requesting comment.

DeBritto said it is city policy not to comment on personnel matters.

Syphers said Monday that during recent budget talks Lewis presented alternative budget ideas that would have resulted in fewer personnel cuts, but he was placed on administrative leave and subsequently fired.

According to the employees' letter, Lewis "asked to have the grievances against him discussed in a public meeting and was fired before he had that chance."

After Syphers read the letter, DeBritto thanked her for her time, said the matter could not be discussed publicly and moved on to the next agenda item.

Lewis, seated at the back of the room, then stood and left, followed by a half-dozen employees in attendance.

City employee Roxanne Faul said city employees voluntarily agreed to a one-year pay freeze to help the city financially and that department managers had always had input on budget matters.

After the meeting, Syphers said she hoped the City Council would rehire Lewis.

"We think it's unfair the way Bob was treated," Syphers said, noting that the firing occurred "the day after he proposed his budget ideas and he was put on leave, then fired without cause."

DeBritto said the sudden nature of Lewis's termination did not violate city policy, and all city employees serve at the will of elected officials.

"I would do that with any employee at any level," the mayor said. "You have to look at how much damage they could do to the city. So it's a precaution that you take.

"It's better to pay them 30 days," he said, "and say, 'Stay away from here, you're done.' "

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.