| by Kelly Tarrant and Orlando Ortiz

On February 21, the City of Markham had its monthly City Council meeting. Along with routine items on the meeting’s agenda, council members addressed the fallout from recent terminations of city officials that appear to have broken state law.

During the meeting’s discussion, it was revealed how three city employees—including Markham’s city inspector general, court administrator and city water supervisor—were improperly terminated earlier this year by Interim Mayor Ernest Blevins’ Office.

Markham’s mayor-elect, Roger Agpawa—who has been prevented from taking office because of a past conviction—spoke about how the recent firings of City Hall officials appears to be retaliation against people for their political positions, who they are connected to and their stance on certain issues.

Agpawa also noted that City Hall seems to be working off some vendettas and questioned Interim Mayor Blevins giving himself a raise. A voice from the crowd (later identified as Executive Assistant to the Mayor Dana Cushingberry) shouted repeatedly “He did not give himself a raise—don’t do that, don’t do that!” A December Project Six investigation showed how Markham’s interim mayor, Ernest Blevins, illegally gave himself a raise worth $70,000 and a $35,000 lump-sum payout.

Agpawa questioned the termination of the three City Hall positions especially Markham’s inspector general’s position. “Why in the world would we want to get rid of, whether it’s personal or not, get rid of an inspector general after we have had…different cases of corruption? We don’t want to be investigated? That’s the worst thing in the world to do…It doesn’t make sense.”

A member of the crowd yelled out, “That’s why he was fired!”

At the conclusion of the public comment session, City Council went into executive session to address the personnel issue.

After coming back from the 10-minute executive session, 4th Ward Alderman William Barron expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the communications between the aldermen and the Mayor’s Office, saying, “I am quoting a state statute that applies to the functions and duties of certain municipal officers. It requires that the Mayor notify the City Council within 5 days, no longer than 10 or the next regular scheduled meeting, that you report to us removal of any employees…that are appointed.”

Barron announced that he will make a presentation at the next council meeting about reinstating the three officials who were removed from their jobs. “I will base it on this law and on the duties of the Mayor Pro Tem.”

Barron went on to say that the communication from the mayor’s office and the mayor’s staff is terrible. “I for one am tired of it. I find out from people who don’t even work for the city when someone has been terminated […] this is ridiculous.” Blevins moved to adjourn the meeting after Barron’s comments.

Markham created the position of inspector general in 2011 (City of Markham Ordinance No. 11-0-1989). The inspector general was appointed by then-Mayor David Webb, Jr., with consent of the City Council. Former Mayor Webb recently pled guilty to a $300,000 bribe scheme involving Markham city contract kickbacks.

Markham’s inspector general’s duties include reviewing and reporting on the management and operation of each department and promoting efficiency and effectiveness with it. Additionally, the inspector general receives complaints alleging wrongful acts by employees of Markham, which require investigating all fraud, waste and abuse, as well as periodic reviews and compliance reporting.

There are four wards in Markham. Currently Alderman Ernest Blevins (1st Ward) is serving as interim mayor while mayor-elect Agpawa’s case is ongoing.

While Blevins serves as interim mayor, he votes as an alderman during council meetings. The remaining council members attending the February 21 meeting were William Barron (4th Ward) and Rondal Jones (3rd Ward). Clifton Howard (2nd Ward) was absent. Also present and seated with the interim mayor was Corporate Counsel Steven R. Miller, Chief of Police Mack Sanders, Housing/Building Interim Director William Lawrence, City Clerk Jennifer Coles, City Treasurer Belinda Richardson and Fire Chief Ronald Moaton. In the audience were Executive Assistant to the Mayor Dana Cushingberry and Administrative Assistant to the Chief of Police Tiffany Motton, as well as the mayor’s Administrative Assistant Ernestina Martinez.

In addition to the controversy surrounding the firing of the city officials and the inspector general, the meeting had an outpouring of resident concerns, including senior citizen service requests and snow plowing, as well as other infrastructure needs. Agpawa also voiced his concern with the direction of Markham, stating there was “no improvement” and “no production that we should be seeing” under the current administration. He also voiced concern with the Police Department and the Public Works Department.

The next Markham City Council meeting will be held on March 7, 2018, at 7 p.m.