Contract vote delayed until next month

First Posted: 12/29/2008

Faced with a choice Monday of either giving notice to terminate the city managers contract by a Wednesday deadline, or letting it renew automatically, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners opted for more time.
Action by the board Monday afternoon amended the wording of the present contract of City Manager Don Brookshire, which is set to expire on March 31, 2009, to allow the board 30 extra days to issue such a notice.
Brookshires original employment agreement, entered into in April 2005, called for it to be automatically renewed for one year on the March date unless notice was given by either party to terminate it at least three months before then. With Mondays action shortening that period from 90 to 60 days, the notice date is now Jan. 31.
The commissioners had been faced with giving such a notice by Wednesday if they desired to either terminate or renegotiate the contract. While Brookshires performance as city manager has not come into question by board members, some have expressed concern about a severance package that it includes.
If Brookshire is terminated without cause, the present contract entitles him to a minimum severance payment equal to one year of his salary at the present rate, which is in the $90,000-per-year range. It also calls for him to be paid for accrued vacation time, sick leave, paid holidays and executive leave.
The local government additionally would supply Brookshires health and life insurance, among other considerations in the severance package.
Some commissioners, and citizens, have questioned the scope of such a package at a time when the citys finances are suffering from a weakened economy.
The rare Monday afternoon session of the Board of Commissioners was recessed from a Dec. 18 meeting in which city officials including Brookshire discussed the contract in closed session for about 90 minutes.
Board members then emerged only to vote to recess that meeting until 11 days later, due to no consensus being reached.
When the group reconvened the recessed meeting Monday afternoon before a small audience of citizens, the commissions remained in open session, but engaged in no discussion about the fate of the contract itself.
Instead, Mayor Jack Loftis told those gathered that recessing the Dec. 18 meeting had allowed time for attorneys of both the municipality and the city manager to discuss the change in the notice period. Both sides agreed to the amendment giving the commissioners until Jan. 31 to make a decision on the contracts future, he said.
The board gave its unanimous approval Monday to that change.
City Attorney Hugh Campbell explained afterward that the action simply will allow the board more deliberation on what will happen with the employment agreement leading to its March expiration date.
Campbell cited the presence of the holiday period in discussing the extension to Jan. 31. Everybody needs a little bit more time, the city attorney said.
During Mondays session, the mayor instructed commissioners to study the contract provisions fully from now until their next regular meeting on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m.
The aim, Loftis said, is to come up with a contract the city manager can consider regarding his ongoing employment. Assuming the board can reach a consensus on the contractual issues in the next couple of weeks, thats what we will propose to the city manager, Loftis said.
Hopefully, we will get this resolved, the mayor added.
Looking ahead to the Jan. 15 meeting, Loftis said it is likely that officials will hold some portions of their discussions then behind closed doors, due to a personnel matter being involved, and some in open session. The guidance of the city attorney will be relied on in determining how much discussion will occur before the public, the mayor said.
Any votes taken by the board in reference to the contract will be required to occur in open session.
Since the commissioners have no other meetings scheduled next month, any decision will have to come on Jan. 15 or during a special meeting later if the board sees fit.
Brookshire declined to comment on the matter after Mondays meeting.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected], or at 719-1924.

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