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Shawnee city manager put on paid administrative leave following report of explicit video

Shawnee City Manager Doug Gerber.
Shawnee Mission Post
Shawnee City Manager Doug Gerber.

Multiple Shawnee city employees reportedly received an email containing a video of City Manager Doug Gerber masturbating. The anonymous sender, a third party outside of city hall, told the Kansas City Star they “wanted to reveal Gerber’s online behavior.”

The Shawnee City Council on Wednesday unanimously voted to place City Manager Doug Gerber on administrative leave.

The vote at a specially called meeting came just hours after the Kansas City Star reported that an outside party had sent city employees a video showing Gerber in a sexual act.

Multiple employees received an email containing a video of Gerber masturbating, according to the Star’s report. The anonymous sender, a third party outside of city hall, told the Star they “wanted to reveal Gerber’s online behavior.” It’s unclear at this point how the outside party obtained the video.

The 8-0 vote followed three executive sessions that totaled two-and-half hours Wednesday afternoon.

The city council is now set to reconvene on Monday, Nov. 6, to appoint an interim city manager.

The video circulated around Shawnee City Hall about a month ago, according to the Star.

In an e-mail sent Sept. 29 and obtained by the Shawnee Mission Post, a city IT employee warned workers that a video with the subject headline “MOST IMPORTANT” was being sent using a generic Gmail account which allowed for it to bypass the city’s email filters.

“This is just a disturbed individual trying to cause issues with the City,” the IT employee’s email said.

The email went on to say the sender had been blocked.

City council members said they were blindsided

Councilmembers Eric Jenkins and Angela Stiens both said they did not receive the e-mail sent to city staff and were shocked that no one told them about the video for almost a month.

Jenkins said he found out about the video when a reporter called him about it Tuesday.

“That was the first I heard of it,” he said. “That wasn’t good. Nobody felt like they should step up and tell the governing body.”

When asked about the video, Stiens said she still hadn’t seen it.

“I’ve never seen it. I don’t know anything about it,” she said. “From my understanding, [most city employees] didn’t even know about it, as well. They found out about it the same way we did — through the Kansas City Star.”

Gerber’s hiring came amid city hall turmoil

Jenkins was one of several councilmembers who recently praised Gerber in his role as city manager at a candidate forum hosted by the Post.

“[He] is doing a great job, and there hasn’t been a ripple of a problem in the transition,” Jenkins said during the Post’s forum.

The city council’s unanimous agreement to hire Gerber back in February came amid a period of instability at city hall, with several key employees having departed city hall in the past couple of years, including the previous city manager, two deputy city managers, a finance director and communications manager.

At the Post’s forum earlier this month, Councilmember Tammy Thomas cast Gerber’s hiring as a good thing in light of other high-level employees leaving.

“Our city manager and deputy city manager resigned. We now have a city manager who has more public and private experience than the previous two city managers combined,” she said.

Concerns arose before Gerber was hired

Mayor Michelle Distler, who is not running for reelection, said some issues were reported about Gerber at his previous jobs — including roles in Topeka city government — during the process to select him but that the city council ultimately saw him as a good fit.

“What I do know is during the city manager hiring process, the governing body had been made aware of previous issues and accusations against Mr. Gerber,” she said in a statement. “The additional concerns I raised during those discussions were dismissed, and the council proceeded to choose Mr. Gerber, stating he most closely aligned with their values.”

Stiens pushed back against criticism that the council ignored potential problems.

“All I can say is that we had a company that did the search, they came back and said there was nothing that came up in any of the searches when his name was brought back. So that is the information that we based [our vote] on,” she said.

The city council’s move Wednesday comes less than a week before city council elections in which city staffing has been a campaign issue.

On Wednesday, three city council candidates issued a joint statement calling for an investigation into Gerber’s actions and that of the city council in the month after the video was originally shared.

“We need a council that will address these issues responsibly and work to repair the harm caused to our amazing city staff who were heartlessly involved in this situation,” Sierra Whitted, who is challenging Tammy Thomas in Ward 1, said.

Jeanie Murphy, who is challenging Eric Jenkins in Ward 2, added: “What we do know is that our city and staff are suffering yet again from the poor decisions of this council who have repeatedly argued that the recent departures of experienced and skilled staff has been the right move for our city.”

Laural Burchfield, who is running for an open seat in Ward 4 against Megan Warner, also said the council needed to “own up to their own role in these ongoing staffing troubles.”

Former mayor criticized Gerber’s appointment

Following the city council vote to put Gerber on paid leave Wednesday, former Shawnee Mayor Jim Allen rebuked the city council for appointing him in the first place.

“[There are] red flags that most people should have looked at and taken more seriously and you wouldn’t be in the position that you’re in today,” he said. “This is one of the biggest black eyes in the history of Shawnee.”

While Stiens stands firm that the council appointed Gerber in good faith, she said she hopes he now resigns and is able to move on.

“He made a bad judgment, but to say that this characterizes someone for the rest of their life, I hope it doesn’t,” Stiens said. “I feel for the man and his family, and I do feel like as a city, we’ll move forward from this.”

In an email to city staff Wednesday evening, assistant city manager Colin Duffy thanked staff for their “hard work.”

“What makes Shawnee great is this team who cares so much about every single street, park, pipe, police car, fire apparatus and building that allows us to serve this community,” the email reads. “You are the team that makes it possible and we cannot begin to thank you enough for all your hard work.”

What the city manager’s contract says about firing

Gerber is now placed on administrative leave while the city council makes plans to appoint an interim city manager.

Gerber’s contract with the city of Shawnee addresses termination, resignation and severance pay. Per his contract, the city must pay six months’ worth of severance pay to Gerber in the event the city council decides to terminate him.

“However, in the event the Manager is terminated for cause, or because of his conviction of a felony crime or any crime involving moral turpitude, which includes personal, the City shall have no obligation to pay Severance Pay,” his contract reads.

This story was originally published by the Shawnee Mission Post.

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