A former Killeen City Council member says she was blindsided by the former city manager's demand for a six-figure severance, but that she knows of no policy to prevent a repeat of such a large payout.
"He felt this was owed, and we said this compromise is the best way to avoid a lawsuit. He was shouting, ‘I am going to sue the city if you don’t pay me $890,000,'" former council member JoAnn Purser said in an interview with Texas Watchdog this week.
Two weeks and three executive sessions later, the council met with Green one last time, and all parties walked away with a compromise settlement of $750,000, agreed to by a 4-3 council vote.
Green told the local press that he had been fired after accusing some council members of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.
"I got fired for bringing to their attention, the fact that I believe they had done something which could have broken the law, and also there are some personnel matters that I have discussed with them that are the prerogative of the city staff,” Green told the local CBS affiliate.
“Council members by charter are not to intervene in personnel matters. ...These things were going on, they were making it impossible for me to do my job as the Killeen city manager. I brought that with good intentions to the council, and as a result of it I lost my job. ... We had been warned repeatedly by the county attorney's office about conducting illegal walking quorums. Council members brought these to my attention and then expected me to say nothing about.”
In the months that followed the council would be disparaged and threatened by residents for handing over the lucrative settlement.
There was talk of a 2006 sexual harassment suit involving Green and more involving an outside investigation into Green’s departure. Green has said he did nothing wrong in the 2006 case.
In November, five of the seven city council were ousted in a recall vote, leaving the city without its primary form of governance.
Among those removed form office was Purser, a local real estate developer and graduate of Killeen High School who was elected to council in May 2009.
Purser remains stung by her removal from office, primarily because she isn’t sure anyone understood what actually happened in those closed sessions. She has been told that the vote taking her out was part of the "throw the bums out" movement that has become popular in the U.S.
“People keep saying that to me and telling me not to be disheartened, but my city is on hold,” Purser said. “It hasn’t been able to do anything since November. We can’t rezone property, we can’t fix roads, and who knows what kind of opportunities we are missing as a result of not having a city council.”
Purser wanted to provide her version of how the Green fiasco went down, and how a city ended up handing over three-quarters of a million dollars in severance to a city employee as the council considered a $2.6 million budget deficit.
Texas Watchdog: Did Connie Green step down or was he fired?
JoAnn Purser: We came into a closed session, and he said, ‘I can no longer work with this city council,' and we just didn’t believe it. We were completely blindsided. He had claimed that council members were meeting behind closed doors, but no proof was ever offered. We just didn’t know what to think of all this. Then he said we owed him $890,000 and he was going to sue us if we didn’t pay him. We were never aware of this buyout clause, it was done by a previous city council, in 2007. They should have had a line item in the budget for it, as to what the potential was. He told us he had 2,000 hours of comp time on top of everything.
TW: Had he documented this? What rate was he being paid at for this comp time?
Purser: Yes, because he kept his payroll log going back, he told us. And it was 2,000 hours. At one point, the council told him he could no longer accrue that kind of backlog of comp time. So he stopped in 2007. So all of this was pre-2007 comp time. Remember, he had been finance director before he was city manager. He was already our city manager for three years when they gave him this new contract. And he had six months of severance initially. Then it was increased to two years?
I was very abrasive with him about this pay, and he wanted to be paid for his comp time at the $98 an hour he was making as city manager, even though some of it had been earned at the $50 an hour he was making when he was finance director. All of this came about from that new contract he signed with the previous council, a deal we knew nothing about. And we did his evaluation in the fall before all of this, and it never came up then. He never said a word about it.
TW: So the council had to deal with this in terms of negotiation on the amount. Was he willing to budge?
Purser: [Council member] Billy Workman wanted to give him $1 million, even more than he was asking for. He said that Connie had been a hard worker and earned it. And he mentioned that a few months earlier, we had given him a stellar review. But, I mean, even Connie only wanted $890,000, and we were happy to get him down to $750,000. And then Billy didn’t even vote to approve that. I don’t regret my vote.
TW: So there was never a question as the legal righteousness of his claim for $890,000?
Purser: I don’t think we could have fought this and won. As a business person, I could say, you know, he’s liable to win this, it’s not worth putting the city and the city employees through an issue that would divide the city. The leadership that we were tasked with is what is fair for the taxpayer, and interpreting this contract, he felt this was owed, and we said this compromise is the best way to avoid a lawsuit. He was shouting, ‘I am going to sue the city if you don’t pay me $890,000.’
TW: Is there anything in place to prevent this kind of thing from happening again?
Purser: No, this kind of policy could still be existing, depending on what human resources or the city is doing. The council is the only body that agrees on a city manager package. When they hire a new city manager, it is going to have to be a pretty attractive package because who is going to want to come to Killeen after this?
This is what’s so painful for me, this is my home. We give financial awards and philanthropically to the community, and for me to be raked over the coals for this, for a city manager I didn’t even know that well. But he was a good city employee.
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Graphic 'Jackpot' by flickr user Max Sparber, used via a Creative Commons license.