FALLS CITY – The Falls City City Council in the 3 to 1 vote affirmed City Manager Mac Corthell’s decision to dismiss former city clerk JoHanna Birr following a public appeal Monday night.
Birr’s employment was terminated on Nov. 15 following an investigation of an incident in which Birr bought a gun to work at City Hall, 299 Mill St. Possessing firearms at on city property is a city policy violation.
City policy allows a dismissed employee to appeal the city manager’s decision. The employee can choose to have the hearing in closed-to-the-public executive session or in open session. Birr decided to hold the hearing during an open session.
The council heard the appeal and had the option of supporting Corthell’s decision or send it back to him for reconsideration
According to a report completed by Corthell, he said that he found a firearm in Birr’s desk. Per city policy, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office was called to take possession of the weapon. The deputy who responded informed the city that Birr was on probation and not allowed to possess a firearm.
Corthell placed Birr on paid administrative leave on Nov. 6 while the city investigated the incident. Birr was given a chance to answer to allegations on Nov. 14, but did not meet with Corthell, according to his report. Corthell send her a letter of dismissal the next day.
“This ‘for cause’ termination is based on your violations of the city’s policies against bringing firearms on city premises, violating criminal laws, and workplace violence, all of which are memorialized in the city personnel handbook,” Corthell wrote in Birr’s termination letter.
Birr’s attorney Larry Linder said she had permission to have the firearm at work.
She told the council Monday during the hearing at former city manager Terry Ungricht gave her permission to have the firearm at work for protection. Birr said the arrangement continued when Corthell started. She said they talked about it soon after Corthell was hired.
“He said, ‘We didn’t have this conversation,’” Birr testified. “My response was ‘what conversation?’”
Corthell repeatedly denied that allegation during the hearing.
Councilor Jenn Drill said she wanted Corthell to reconsider firing Birr. She voted against affirming the decision.
Linder said he will discuss with Birr what she wants to do next. He said there’s a possibility she could file a tort claim -- a notification of a possible lawsuit -- against the city.
For more on this story, see the Dec. 18 edition of the I-O.