Editorials

Now, it’s time to reform executive buyout deals

Hefty severance packages for high-ranking government employees may not have seemed so scandalous in the good old, pre-recession days, but they're cause for outrage in this rotten economy. When so many agencies are crying for cash, it’s a shame to see tax dollars spent on big buyouts for public employees who, for whatever reason, have not worked out.

Case in point: Cuesta College, which recently removed its vice president of academic affairs for "underperforming."

We aren’t second-guessing the college’s decision to relieve Cathleen Greiner of her VP duties, for which she earned $156,921 per year. We understand that, with Cuesta’s accreditation on the line, it is more imperative than ever to have the right personnel in key positions.

But — ouch! — under terms of Greiner's contract, she is guaranteed a maximum of 18 months of pay and benefits if she's fired. (The terms specify that she is to be paid for an 18-month period, or for the number of months remaining in her contract, whichever is less.)

The college can, however, assign Greiner to another position, and if she refuses to accept that job, she loses the severance package.

College President Gil Stork told The Tribune that he plans to find another position for Greiner in which she will be effective.

That’s making the best of an unfortunate situation, though going for ward, we urge Cuesta College — and for that matter, all public agencies — to closely scrutinize severance packages in future contracts.

We understand that public entities, be they colleges, police departments or sewer treatment plants, must offer competitive salaries and benefits to attract good employees. But too often, that line of reasoning has been used to justify bloated salaries, pensions and other benefits — including severance packages — that are far in excess of what most private sector employees receive.

Six months of severance pay is the norm for many high-ranking public officials in city and county government, and we believe that’s adequate.

Bottom line: Ideally, we hope those doing the hiring make the right choice from the start. But given the inevitability that someone, at some point, is not going to be the right fit, government agencies must protect themselves — and the taxpayers — by minimizing their exposure in case they do terminate amanagement-level employee.

We've heard much about pension reform, and there has been notable progress in that area. Now, it's time for some serious severance reform as well.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.

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