Sunday analysis: The controversial tenure of Eckert, leaves the city searching for answers

first_img Close Forgot password? Please put in your email: Send me my password! Close message Login This blog post All blog posts Subscribe to this blog post’s comments through… RSS Feed Subscribe via email Subscribe Subscribe to this blog’s comments through… RSS Feed Subscribe via email Subscribe Follow the discussion Comments (17) Logging you in… Close Login to IntenseDebate Or create an account Username or Email: Password: Forgot login? Cancel Login Close Username or Email: Password: Lost your password? Cancel Login Dashboard | Edit profile | Logout Logged in as Admin Options Disable comments for this page Save Settings Sort by: Date Rating Last Activity Loading comments… You are about to flag this comment as being inappropriate. Please explain why you are flagging this comment in the text box below and submit your report. The blog admin will be notified. Thank you for your input. +14 Vote up Vote down Wellingtonite · 218 weeks ago …very well written. Report Reply 0 replies · active 218 weeks ago +9 Vote up Vote down paul · 218 weeks ago Eckert works for only one year and then gets $115K severance from Montrose County. Eckert then accepts Wellington job over Florence Job, accepting $20K less annual salary in Wellington over Florence, because wellington has better severance clause than Florence. Eckert then works for a little over one year in wellington and gets $100K Severance payment from Wellington. If Eckert put 1/2 as much effort into being a city manager, as he did setting himself up to get paid to not work by Montrose county and Wellington. He would have been an incredible city manager! Report Reply 2 replies · active 218 weeks ago +12 Vote up Vote down paul · 218 weeks ago Cueball: This is great story and information! I had heard all week it cost the City of Wellington $100,000 to terminate Eckert. I feel much better it was only $37,000 extra money paid to Eckert to terminate him immediately instead of allowing his contract to run till the end of 2016, based on what we know as of today. Report Reply 0 replies · active 218 weeks ago +15 Vote up Vote down John Munro · 218 weeks ago A very well written article, Tracy. I didn’t detect any favor in either direction, it seemed to be very well balanced, very un-political. Good journalism. Now; if maybe sometime down the line, if possible, we could get an interview with Mr. Eckert this whole episode would be complete. Keep up the good work, we all deserve it. Report Reply 1 reply · active 218 weeks ago +5 Vote up Vote down Wes Smith · 218 weeks ago In your story posted October 18, 2014 about Roy accepting the job it detailed his contract. One of the items in this contract it was stated as follows “after the first six months the governing body will conduct a performance review on whether or not to provide the employee with a salary increase;” Was this 6 month review complied with? Report Reply 0 replies · active 218 weeks ago +2 Vote up Vote down Guest · 218 weeks ago This might be the best reporting in the history of Wellington, Kansas. Good job. Report Reply 0 replies · active 218 weeks ago -2 Vote up Vote down Jeremy Davis · 218 weeks ago Great article. Only problem is not reporting the very, extreme decision making made by our council, and mayor without in my opinion any regard for the consequences. I’d love to show the amount of money wasted on things since this last election but every time I try and add them up my calculator says error. The cause…..not enough spaces for the amount I try to figure up. When you have to go to a bigger calculator to accomadate the very, Very.VERY high amount of wasted money this town throws away on dumb $#!+. I’m suprise there’s still room in the budget to pay someone $100,000 not to work. Report Reply 0 replies · active 218 weeks ago -2 Vote up Vote down Jeremy Davis · 218 weeks ago I would love for anyone to go and lookup (or download the pdf file like I did) and go through and look at where the city money actually goes. I went through the 300+ pages of the pdf file. Took me quite a long time as well and deduced that the average wasted money. Not money going to basic service but the budgeted amount each dept is alloted. I promise you. It is shocking. Wasteful. And quite literally benefit a very select few. Report Reply 0 replies · active 218 weeks ago 0 Vote up Vote down ??? · 218 weeks ago I thought Sims and Newberry both had the title of Assistant under Gus?? Report Reply 0 replies · active 218 weeks ago 0 Vote up Vote down Fedup215 78p · 218 weeks ago I too would like to see a comment from Roy. There are always two sides to every story. Report Reply 0 replies · active 218 weeks ago 12Next » Post a new comment Enter text right here! Comment as a Guest, or login: Login to IntenseDebate Login to Login to Twitter Go back Tweet this comment Connected as (Logout) Email (optional) Not displayed publicly. Name Email Website (optional) Displayed next to your comments. Not displayed publicly. If you have a website, link to it here. Posting anonymously. Tweet this comment Submit Comment Subscribe to None Replies All new comments Comments by IntenseDebate Enter text right here! Reply as a Guest, or login: Login to IntenseDebate Login to Login to Twitter Go back Tweet this comment Connected as (Logout) Email (optional) Not displayed publicly. Name Email Website (optional) Displayed next to your comments. Not displayed publicly. If you have a website, link to it here. Posting anonymously. Tweet this comment Cancel Submit Comment Subscribe to None Replies All new comments by Tracy McCue, Sumner Newscow — The Wellington City Council has had plenty of executive sessions over the years, but none of them were quite like the ones held on Friday, May 27, during a special meeting.Only the seven people alone in the room know what was specifically said in the closed room at the council chamber for an hour long private meeting that included a 30-minute and two 15-minute executive sessions. But has been described as “fraught with emotion.”Roy EckertWhen the council finally reconvened in open session, councilman Kip Etter uttered a motion never made in the history of the city of Wellington politics since switching to a city manager system over 50 years ago. He moved to terminate Wellington City Manager Roy Eckert’s contract immediately. It was seconded by Kelly Green Hawley.In order for the resolution to pass, the council needed two more votes to get a majority. It would get one. Bill Butts, the council newcomer who replaced B.J. Tracy last June, cast an affirmative vote. Jim Valentine, Jan Korte and Vince Wetta would vote against it. The vote then rested on the shoulders of Wellington Mayor Shelley Hansel.Shelley HanselA mayor in Wellington city council’s system, theoretically is the least powerful person on the board. He/she only votes occasionally and that is during a tie – and that happens rarely. But on this Friday afternoon, not only was the council deadlocked, but it came on what was the most controversial vote this council will probably ever make.She voted “yes.”And thus the tenure of Mr. Eckert, Wellington City Manager, had ended after a stormy 19 months. He was to leave at midnight that day.“It was not a matter of ‘if,’ it was a matter of when,” Wetta said the Saturday afterwards. “He is a nice guy and all that, but as far as being city manager is concerned, it was over.”Wetta said when it came down to it, he personally could not give $100,000 away with seven months left on his contract.“I have served on railroad boards and the state legislature for a number of years,” Wetta said. “This was by far the most difficult vote I ever cast.”Hansel would tell Newscow reporter James Jordan that she thought the seven months left on his contract would have made for an awkward working environment knowing his contract wouldn’t be renewed. The council had also contemplated taking action closer to the day of non-renewal. The council had 45 days before the his two year contract ended on Dec. 31. She said that wasn’t a good option either.In the end, the council majority voted to get it over with. Since then it has been both applauded and jeered.The Friday vote in some ways was two tiered. Not only did the council terminate Eckert, but it also chose not to take action on naming a replacement or even an interim. That could come Tuesday. The council has an executive session on its agenda for its first regular June meeting.But today at this writing, the city has no city manager. Hansel told Newscow that Jason Newberry, the assistant city manager, was to handle the day-to-day operations until then.This is unchartered territory for the city of Wellington. How it ends is anybody’s guess.The contractWhen the Wellington City Council voted to fire Eckert it was basically choosing between two scenarios:1) Pay him a $100,000 severance package as stipulated by his employment agreement;2) Discontinue paying him for the remainder of his contract. That would have cost the city $57,692 for 30 weeks of salary, $3,500 in car allowance, $700 in cell phone expenses (not including his health insurance premiums) in 15  bi-weekly payments.Sumner Newscow has obtained the employee agreement (found here) of Eckert signed on Oct. 22, 2014 by himself along with former Wellington Mayor Roger Stallbaumer, acting in behalf of that city council.The agreement commenced on Nov. 10, 2014 the beginning of Eckert’s employment and would have ended on Dec. 31, 2016, as a two-year contract. Had the council done nothing, it would have been automatically renewed until Dec. 31, 2018.According to termination clause on page 3 of the agreement:“termination shall occur when the majority of the governing body votes to terminate the employee at a duly authorized public meeting.”But in doing so, according to the contract stipulations, the city of Wellington would pay Eckert one year salary, since he did not resign or was terminated due to disciplinary reasons.The alternative to the quick termination was to keep Eckert on the payroll until Dec. 31. He was paid $3,846.16 bi-weekly for a $100,000 a year salary. With 15 payments left on his contract, that equated to $57,692 in salary alone. Combine the other amenities in his contract and the city would have paid $63,392 not including health insurance payments. So even though, Wellington paid Eckert $100,000 in severance, the net cost to the city at minimum is less than $37,000.Of course, that all depends what the council does next when hiring a new city manager. If it names a city manager soon, then it would be paying for two city managers until Eckert’s severance is paid out.The issue of severanceThe City of Wellington is no different than most municipal governments its size or larger or for that matter a CEO serving a private corporation. A severance package is used by the company as a contract incentive while at the same time protecting the employee from wrongful termination.The hope is, the severance package will never be used. And it hasn’t in the case of the City of Wellington. The city government has never fired a city manager. Most have resigned for other career opportunities. There was one exception. In 1987, a council did exercise its option not to renew the contract of city manager Craig Hubler, who was told on April 22, 1987 that the city of Wellington would exercise its 60-day option to terminate the employment agreement. He worked until June 22, 1987. He did not get severance pay.But when Eckert signed his two-year contract, he had a one-year severance pay package it was the largest ever offered in the City’s history. Former Wellington City Manager Gus Collins had a six months severance package.This did not come by accident.The severance package was one of the key negotiating points in bringing Eckert to Wellington.Before accepting the job at Wellington, Eckert had been county administrator at Montrose County, Colo. In late April 2014, when his tenure came to an end after his resignation, the Montrose County Commissioners provided Eckert a severance package of $115,000.When Eckert applied for the city manager in Wellington, he was one of three candidates left in an exhaustive interviewing process that had lasted for six months. He was not Wellington’s first choice. But after the first candidate turned down Wellington’s offer, Eckert was offered the job at $95,000 annual salary as well as a $500 car and $100 monthly cell phone allowance.But Eckert had sent Stallbaumer a letter, also turning the council down. At the time, he thought the council should wait another seven months before hiring a city manager until after the city election. He was also concerned with the high property taxes in Kansas and the housing situation in Wellington.In the meantime, Eckert had been offered a job for $120,000 a year from a municipality in Florence, Ore., a coastal town of 8,466 people in the west-central part of the state, $25,000 more than what Wellington was offering.But Eckert turned that council down as well. According to a statement issued by the Florence City Hall on Oct. 11 in the Siusaw News it stated:“The council has offered Mr. Eckert what they believed to have been a very fair compensation package but could not meet his requirement for a severance clause.”Florence had offered a six-month severance package and an additional month for every year he served thereafter.The Wellington City Council, hoping to get someone hired soon, upped the ante and offered Eckert a $100,000 a year contract with a 12-month severance pay package instead of six. Eckert would accept.In other words, Eckert accepted a contract paying him less money than Florence, Ore. but getting twice the severance pay package.Suffice it to say, Eckert has now made $215,000 since April 2014 by not working – $115,000 severance pay from Montrose, and $100,000 from Wellington.The stormy tenureFrom the onset, one could safely say, Eckert’s tenure had been a stormy one – not completely his fault.It wasn’t too much later that he found himself engulfed in the Wellington Housing Authority controversy between the board and then Wheat Capital Manor Executive Director Melissa Hamlin. He would remove the WHA board President.It was soon thereafter that Wellington Finance Advisor John Haas had announced during a work sessionthat too much money was taken out of the utility reserve fund during the Collins year and it needed to be replenished in order for the city of Wellington to not affect its bond rating.The Wellington Council, which brought in three new members in April’s election and replace another member in June, would eventually have to raise utility fees as well as property taxes to the chagrin of the taxing community.Arguably, though, Eckert’s biggest issues involved personnel (see story here). Eckert moved city employees like pawns. Wellington City Clerk Shane Shields was moved to finance director; Carol Mericle was moved in to replace him as clerk. Jason Newberry was made an assistant to the city manager – a new position that would cost city taxpayers $70,460 a year. Secretaries were moved and offices were changed. The funds going to the city manager’s office was upped by $38,032.Eckert was also having issues with both the Wellington Fire and Police Department after implementing a salary freeze and not delivering on promises for new equipment.As one city employee, who wished not to be identified, would put it about Eckert.“They (the council) did not see the near daily occurrence of indecision, lack of leadership, disorganization, etc. that other staff experienced.”One of the more troubling aspects with Eckert, many found, was his inconsistent leadership style.According to one individual not on the current council:Very early on, with the hospital situation, (Eckert) commented several times in public meetings, that he didn’t know how bad the situation was.  He absolutely did know as it was a specific item he was briefed on – just as we did with the other applicant, the first choice.  They were briefed and given full information on the SRMC issue, the status of the utility fund, the raw water issue and other issues that the city was facing.” Then there was the golf sprinkler crisis that developed this February in which the council was told the sprinkler system was no longer functional and needed and its computer needed to be replaced immediately. The council voted for the purchase, without a bidding process. Some have accused Eckert for a lack of leadership throughout the ordeal.None of the council members, contacted by Sumner Newscow said it was one specific thing that Eckert did that led to his dismissal but a collection of things. Council woman Green Hawley stated it came down to very poor job evaluations and general disappointment in leadership and control.The council’s actions If the council can be accused of one wrongdoing, it would be nor performing a performance evaluation when it was supposed to.As stipulated in the Eckert agreement:“The Employer shall annually review the performance of the Employee subject to a process, form, criteria, and format for the evaluation which shall be mutually agreed upon by the Employer and Employee. The process, at a minimum, shall include the opportunity for both parties to: 1) prepare a written evaluation, 2) meet and discuss the evaluation, and 3) present a written summary of the evaluation results.”However, there was no performance review made last December, the first year anniversary of his employment.Eventually on May 16, 18 months after Eckert was hired, the council had its first performance review. And according to Hansel, the evaluations were terrible.Eleven days later, the council was faced with the prospect of doing one of three things:1) Doing nothing and letting Eckert’s contract renew until December 2018;2) Not renewing his contract effectively making him a lame duck city manager until Dec. 31;3) Terminating Eckert immediately.The split council would ultimately decide to terminate a city manager immediately.There has been much speculation why the first performance review, was not made in a timely fashion. Many felt this was a white elephant scenario in which the council knew the issue of Eckert was looming but chose to ignore it for as long as possible for both financial and public relation reasons.Nevertheless, history will reflect that once the first performance review was made, Eckert did not survive it.Now comes the ramification of the Council’s May 27 decision – looking for a replacement.Collins resigned in April 2014. One can argue, that search for his permanent replacement is still ongoing.Follow us on Twitter.last_img

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