Arroyo Grande taxpayers may not like it, but we believe the City Council is right to cut its losses and negotiate a settlement with former City Manager Steve Adams.
While it’s true that Adams submitted his resignation — which under normal circumstances would make him ineligible for severance pay — we’re reminded again and again that in the halls of government, the word “resignation” is open to interpretation.
Most contracts, in fact, include a clause stating that city managers are entitled to severance pay if they resign at the “suggestion” of the City Council.
In this case, Adams is essentially claiming that he was cut from the payroll prematurely.
Some background: When Adams announced his resignation in October amid allegations of improper conduct, he said he would leave once his replacement was hired. In a Viewpoint published in The Tribune, Adams also made it clear that he intended to remain in his position throughout the recruitment process.
It’s not clear whether the City Council accepted those conditions, or was simply silent on the issue.
We do know that Adams was not allowed to remain on the payroll as long as he had anticipated.
On Nov. 19 — following the election that unseated the mayor and another incumbent — the City Council placed Adams on paid administrative leave, pending employment of an interim city manager. Adams’ leave ended when an interim manager was hired this month.
According to a letter from Adams’ attorney, the city’s actions amount to a termination, and as a result, Adams is seeking severance pay of approximately $107,000.
Could the city fight it?
Would it be worth it?
It’s unfortunate, but government agencies often wind up settling even when they believe they have a strong chance of winning.
In this case, there’s no question that Adams left his job with Arroyo Grande under extremely stressful circumstances. He was rumored to have been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, although two separate investigations concluded he had committed no violation.
Some say he was bullied out of office, others insist his actions were unprofessional and made him unfit to lead the city.
Rather than prolong the debate over Adams’ conduct, at this point, the job of the City Council is to do what is in the best interests of the taxpayers.
The council voted last week to negotiate. We respect that decision.
A LOOK AT OTHER EXAMPLES
In San Luis Obispo County, several local officials who have been fired or submitted resignations – sometimes without even a hint to the public that anything was amiss – have been awarded hefty payouts.
Last year, the former Morro Bay city manager and city attorney received nine months of severance pay, plus pay for unused sick leave, vacation days, etc., at a total cost of $316,597. Their departures were treated as resignations, though the council majority was not happy with their performances for reasons never made public.
In 2012, former Paso Robles police Chief Lisa Solomon resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment and was awarded a $250,000 settlement, most of it for damage to her reputation.
In 2011, the former police chief of Atascadero, James Mulhall, announced his resignation, stating that he wanted to spend more time with his family. A couple of weeks later, it was revealed that he was given a $126,000 settlement, in exchange for agreeing not to sue the city.
In 2009, County Administrator David Edge received a $237,000 paycheck, which included eight months of severance pay and $90,000 in accumulated leave. Edge was fired in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal. The following year, Edge’s second-in-command, Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox — who was also fired — accepted $180,000 to settle a lawsuit against the county.
Reaching into the archives, in 2003, the city manager of Pismo Beach, Suzanne Bragdon, resigned after just six months on the job. At the time, she told The Tribune she felt forced out. Bragdon received a severance package worth up to $135,000 — a controversial payout, given her brief time on the job.