City should sever this bad precedent

It’s not surprising that top administrators at the city of Grand Junction — or any other local government entity, for that matter — have severance-pay clauses in their contracts that provide them with additional money if they are fired. But severance packages for employees who resign are another matter, altogether.

Jobs such as city manager or police chief are highly political. City managers serve at the whim of the City Council and can be told to hit the road whenever the elected officials lose confidence in them. Even police chiefs, who usually answer to a city manager, have little job security if the electorate and their representatives on the City Council no longer support them.

In order to attract the top talent, local governments frequently include some sort of severance clause for top management officials in the event their jobs suddenly come to an end. Taxpayers may not like paying out additional funds to someone who gets fired, but that is often a cost of attracting qualified people.

We see little reason why the city of Grand Junction should give generous severance packages to administrators who resign, however. In that case, their leaving is their own decision. They aren’t unexpectedly left without a paycheck due to city action.

As The Daily Sentinel’s Mike Wiggins detailed on Sunday, the city of Grand Junction has provided generous severance packages to four managers who resigned in recent years. They included two former city managers — Kelly Arnold and David Varley, former interim Community Development Director Sheryl Trent and former Police Chief Bill Gardner, who resigned last summer.

In two cases, that of Arnold and Gardner, a part of the reason for the severance pay was to reimburse the men for acting as consultants to the city as it searched for their replacements. We find that a weak foundation on which to build a severance package. If outside assistance is needed to find a replacement, better to use an independent, unbiased search entity.

Moreover, Arnold appparently did no consulting for the city after he left, despite that agreement. Garner helped recruit acting Police Chief John Camper, but how much assistance he’ll be in finding a permanent chief is unclear.

Few peope but CEOs at major corporations receive severance packages when they resign, and those are private firms.

The Grand Junction City Council should re-examine its hiring policies and eliminate the practice — an extremely bad precedent — of paying additonal money to administrators who voluntarily leave their employment with the city.


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