Steamboat City Council members: Severance pay warranted for Roberts
October 17, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Jon Roberts’ departure from City Hall was being planned weeks ago.
Less than a month after the Steamboat Springs City Council laid out a new set of goals and scheduled a January performance review for Roberts, the city manager called City Attorney Tony Lettunich in late September to say he was considering stepping down.
Lettunich said Wednesday that Roberts then proposed the terms of his resignation, including the six months of severance pay unanimously approved by the City Council on Tuesday night.
City Council first was presented with the severance proposal during an Oct. 2 executive session.
"It went fairly quickly and fairly easily," Lettunich said about the negotiations between Roberts and the council.
Roberts said Tuesday night that his resignation was the result of a "personal and professional reflection" that followed the contentious performance review he received in August from the City Council. He said he enjoyed his tenure as city manager and was proud of the accomplishments he and his management team produced in a tough economy.
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Because he technically resigned, the City Council was not required to offer Roberts a severance package, but several council members said Tuesday that the severance agreement they approved was the best outcome for both parties.
Council President Bart Kounovsky and council member Cari Hermacinski, who both strongly supported Roberts during the contentious August performance review that threw his future into question, said Wednesday that Roberts’ performance during his three years as city manager warranted the severance pay.
"I think that over the three years he was here, we definitely got our money’s worth, especially when you look at the structural changes we made on the financial side. It will literally will save the taxpayers millions of dollars," Hermacinski said.
She also said Roberts "didn’t quibble" with council when he took a 10 percent pay cut at the start of his tenure as a result of city staff furloughs he proposed. For that reason, the council didn’t need to quibble with Roberts about his request for severance, Hermacinski said.
"I think he has done tremendous things for the city," she said.
Roberts isn’t the first Steamboat Springs city manager to step down after running into problems with some of his council bosses.
Alan Lanning’s job was put at risk in July 2008 after he received a poor performance review from his council. Like Roberts, Lanning eventually reached a severance agreement with the council and resigned.
Hermacinski, who was a member of the council that negotiated Lanning’s departure, said Roberts’ resignation and severance agreement was more straightforward per the terms of his contract.
Other council members, including Roberts’ critics, had different reasons for supporting the severance package.
Council member Sonja Macys, who sparred with Roberts during his final weeks as city manager, said she isn’t a fan of severance pay.
But she said she thought it was debatable as to whether the city wasn’t obligated to pay it and said the agreement reached Tuesday was the best for both sides.
She added the severance was a better option than having Roberts continue to serve until January and, if he were to be fired during his regular performance review, receive the five months of severance guaranteed by his contract.
"I think that Jon resigning and the agreement that was reached was in the best interest of the city," Macys said. "This is a good agreement for the city and our ability to attract and retain quality people, and it’s a good agreement for Jon and his ability to move on."
City manager search
Macys said Wednesday that she didn’t want to talk about any council discussions leading up to Roberts’ resignation Tuesday. Instead, she said she was focused on the search for a new city manager.
“I don’t want to comment on the past,” she said. “Something changed, but that was Jon’s driving.”
Council quickly appointed Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark to the interim role Tuesday night, and it is expected to begin discussions about filling the position permanently during an Oct. 30 meeting.
Kounovsky said it was too early to say how the search will be conducted. He said he will let history be a guide for how to proceed.
Macys said she already has two desires of the process.
"I personally am not in favor of spending money on a headhunter," she said. "I think that today, with social media and Internet and the professional networks the city already pays to be a part of, we can recruit applicants without spending a lot of money."
Macys also said recent community feedback on introducing a mayoral system to replace the city manager has convinced her it at least should be part of the upcoming recruitment discussion.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com