An Editorial by Susan Reeves
The citizens of Mount Vernon have been robbed. The amount taken is approximately $100,000. Those who witnessed the mugging were momentarily stunned and speechless. Then, outrage and shock swept through the audience after hearing the statement read at the end of the special executive city council session on Friday, May 20. Members of the Mount Vernon City Council accepted City Administrator Lee Elliott’s voluntary resignation, but the shock came when they gave him a 12 month severance package in return.
Mayor J. D. Baumgardner and outgoing councilpersons Nathan Reves and Libby Milton voted for the package. Jasper Scott and B. F. Hicks, continuing on the council with another year left on their terms, abstained from the vote. Outgoing councilwoman Darlene Hatcher was absent from the proceedings due to illness.
Mr. Elliott tendered his resignation citing “philosophical differences with the newly elected council” as his reason for quitting.
“How does he know what the new council’s philosophy is when he has never had a conversation with any of us?” Kenneth Shelton, Saundra Dunn and Jeff Briscoe, the three newly elected council members, asked after the announcement.
Calling a meeting of the old city council after the election was an insult to the voters of Mount Vernon. It was perfectly legal, but was it morally correct? (It kind of brings back memories of the shenanigans with the Economic Development board a few months back.) The election votes had not been canvassed, the new council members had not been sworn in, nor had the new council been seated. The old council still had their power, and they used it to Mr. Elliott’s advantage.
After the meeting, Councilman Reves handed out a prepared list of all the good deeds Mr. Elliott has accomplished during his tenure. Many positive things have been enacted during the past four years, but Mr. Elliott has rubbed many business owners and citizens the wrong way with his less than hospitable attitude in making them happen. The council felt he had done a good job as City Administrator and deserved this compensation. He already got his compensation. It’s called a paycheck for the past four years.
Mr. Elliott’s original contract signed in 2007 called for a 12 month severance package if he was terminated by the council or asked to involuntarily resign by the council. Mr. Elliott’s termination package was increased in September 2010 to include a 15 month compensation and “provide for more guarantees against ‘political’ involuntary termination compensation.”
Mr. Elliott was not terminated involuntarily. He resigned to avoid dealing with new council members who may or may not be antagonistic. None of the three made any public campaign promises about getting Mr. Elliott fired from his position. They did campaign to “fight” for the citizens.
In most businesses, when an employee quits, he forfeits any severance package, including accrued sick days. Mr. Elliott will be walking away with a promise of bi-weekly salary payments for a total of $89,502 over the next twelve months. The city will pay his $416 per month health insurance premium for 12 months or until he secures another position with paid benefits. He will also continue to accrue vacation and sick time during this 12 month period and be paid for all that is accrued. This from a council who has bemoaned the lack of funds to do needed repairs
Where is this money coming from? Will we have to wait until this is paid out to afford to hire another administrator?
Oh wait, the council lowered the city’s tax rate by moving costs into fees, so there is room to raise the rate to cover their generosity.