Former manager seeks pay | SteamboatToday.com

Former manager seeks pay

Ousted city employee files appeal for unemployment

Dana Strongin

— Former Steamboat Springs City Manager Paul Hughes is seeking unemployment pay.

On Wednesday, the city received a notice of an unemployment insurance appeal hearing. The document, dated April 5, sets a May hearing date with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s Division of Employment and Training. The notice of appeal means Hughes filed for unemployment pay with the state and was denied.

Contacted at his home, Hughes declined comment on the matter.

The Steamboat Springs City Council, which has hiring and firing authority over the city manager, voted in a split decision in December to terminate Hughes’ contract at the end of the month. Council members said they wanted a “fresh start” in 2006.

The council vote came weeks after Hughes announced plans to retire. As part of those plans, Hughes agreed to work until Nov. 3, 2006, or until five days before the new city manager took office, whichever came first.

The city is interviewing candidates to replace Hughes.

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Hughes, whose annual salary was $121,076, is appealing for unemployment compensation from Jan. 1 to five days before the new city manager takes over. The money would come out of a city fund. City Attorney Tony Lettunich and Shelley Hill, Hughes’ attorney and wife, did not know how much compensation that would be.

The appeal notice indicates the state’s denial for unemployment pay was based on a $53,766.03 payment Hughes received after his contract was terminated.

According to Hughes’ retirement agreement, he was to receive a $53,766.03 sum under two circumstances: if he was fired without cause or if his employment concluded as planned.

The notice says that the state considered the $53,766.03 to be a severance allowance. Hill contends that the sum was not severance allowance, but a lump sum payment that was the city’s obligation. She said the payment was meant to induce Hughes to provide future services until his replacement was retained.

The notice states, “The determination of the Division that this contractual lump sum payment was a ‘severance allowance’ permits the city to have its cake and eat it as well.”

The city broke the retirement agreement by firing Hughes unexpectedly, Hill said. “Had the city met the requirements of the agreement, Mr. Hughes would have been done with this,” she said.

The city did not have a response Wednesday but plans to file an official reply next week, Lettunich said.

The appeal hearing is set for May 1 in Grand Junction.

— To reach Dana Strongin, call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com