Leona Plaugh's relationship with Columbia city government ended six years ago when City Council fired her - twice - as city manager.
Now the 59-year-old is planning a comeback.
Plaugh said Tuesday she is considering a run for City Council, confirming a brief announcement she made nearly two weeks ago at the Eau Claire/North Columbia Rotary Club.
Plaugh, Columbia's first and only female city manager, worked for the city for 28 years until she was fired in 2003 after documents were found on her computer outlining a plan to "destroy" seven high-ranking city officials.
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Plaugh was replaced by Charles Austin, who retired in January after years of financial problems in the city led to multimillion-dollar budget deficits and cutbacks in city services.
"During my tenure as city manager, our finances were in great shape and the city operated more efficiently and effectively, and I think most city residents wish we could go back to that," Plaugh said in a Tuesday e-mail to The State.
"I think most people realize the conflict which ended my tenure was a matter of politics, not performance."
While Plaugh left the city's administration with controversy, her possible return to city politics would be welcome, according to two council members who were Plaugh's toughest critics and voted in 2003 to fire her.
"While Leona's tenure as city manager ended in a manner that no one was happy with, I saw her for many years as an employee and there is no doubt that she loves the city of Columbia very much," Mayor Bob Coble said.
Plaugh said she most likely would run for the District 4 seat being vacated by Councilman Kirkman Finlay, who is running for mayor.
"I would recommend she run citywide," said Jim Papadea, a former councilman who also voted to fire Plaugh. "She's got a lot of friends throughout the city that I think would support her in a citywide race."
Plaugh became city manager in 2001 after the sudden resignation of her predecessor, Mike Bierman.
Her two years of leadership were tainted by controversy, including a back-door reorganization of city government without council's knowledge and a $437,000 loan to the Rosewood Development Academy that caught the FBI's attention.
But it was a discrimination lawsuit filed by city employee Wanda Dunn in 2003 that led to her dismissal.
As part of the discovery for the lawsuit, officials found a document on Plaugh's computer listing Dunn's name under the heading "destroy." The city would later settle the lawsuit out of court, according to Dunn's attorney.
Plaugh's success or failure as a politician will depend on her ability to answer for her past with the city, said Bob Wislinski, a political consultant who works as a fundraiser for Steve Benjamin's mayoral campaign.
"Anytime you are a known candidate, it carries positives and negatives," Wislinski said. "Her being known comes with a certain price, and a large part of the success of (her) candidacy will be surmounting that and reinventing herself as an elected persona."
But Plaugh's candidacy would force the city to relive its old problems at time when it needs to find solutions to its new problems, said Kevin Fisher, an advertising executive who also is considering a run in District 4.
"There is no city government in the United States more in need of leaving old ways and former players behind than Columbia," Fisher said. "So while I like Leona, I don't think she's what people are looking for."