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A group of residents and local attorneys want the Provo City Council to rehire former council attorney Mike Thornton, even though it is still unclear why City Attorney Gary Gregerson fired him last month.

Tuesday night, two petitions with more than 300 signatures were presented to the City Council calling for Thornton's reinstatement and a public apology from Mayor George Stewart."You cannot afford to let matters rest as they are," local attorney John Musselman told council members.

The council did not fire Thornton, but it could hire him under an independent contract like the one he worked under before he became an employee of the legal department in March. A few council members appeared to be sympathetic to the petitioners' request, even though they haven't discussed the termination with Gregerson.

"It really disturbs me with what's going on," Councilman David Rail said.

A meeting was planned Wednesday between Thornton, Gregerson and acting council attorney Richard Daleabout to clarify some discrepancies about Thornton's termination and to determine whether a peaceful resolution can be reached. But it is unknown whether the meeting will result in Gregerson publicly explaining his reason for terminating Thornton, or in Thornton being rehired.

So far, residents have only heard from Thornton's advocates, who say that Thornton was fired for warning Councilman Karl Thalman not to listen to tape recordings made by Councilwoman Shari Holweg and obtained from her home by her brother.

"He ought to be rewarded and commended for it, not fired for it," resident Doug Snarr told the council.

But Gregerson, in a memo to Chief Administrative Officer Lewis Billings that was later converted to a press release, said the conjecture and speculation about Thornton's termination is based on untruths. He said those advocating for Thornton's cause are acting on an "erroneous version of the incident."

Also, Mayor George Stewart said he didn't fire Thornton and was only advised of the termination after it happened. Gregerson confirms that he fired Thornton without consulting the mayor or City Council.

However, Gregerson said city policy prevents him from explaining his reasons for firing Thornton unless Thornton signs a release, which he has not done.

"Should Mr. Thornton wish to sign a release so that the facts of this matter could be allowed to come out, it would dispose of a lot of the questions and concerns that are being raised by inaccurate information that has been fed to the news media for the articles that have been printed to date," the release says.

Thornton called the press release "appalling" and a "bunch of crap." He said he's never been asked to sign a release.

"I can't believe you would allow something like this out," he told Billings.

Thornton then had a verbal confrontation with Councilman Dennis Poulsen after Poulsen gave him an opportunity to let the facts come out. The confrontation related more to Holweg's tapes and whether Poulsen had listened to any, rather than the reason for Thornton's termination or whether he would grant Gregerson permission to publicly discuss the issue.

"I just want the truth to be out," Thornton said.

Some council members suggested holding an executive session to hear all the facts of Thornton's termination. Some residents opposed the suggestion and Daleabout advised council members against holding a closed-door meeting for fact-finding purposes. He suggested that he meet with Thornton and Gregerson, then report the results of the meeting to council members.

Thornton agreed that it would be best to handle the matter in private to avoid embarrassment to the city.

"It's probably appropriate not to have a war in the press over this," he said.