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Council OKs controversial longevity incentive for city manager

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By Ramsey Scott

The Littleton City Council has approved a measure designed to encourage the city manager to stick around long term, but some council members complained that the move violates the spirit of the city charter.

At its regular meeting March 19, the council voted 4-3 to add a longevity bonus scheme to the contract of City Manager Michael Penny. Penny’s $155,000 yearly salary will be augmented with a month’s salary, to be paid when he leaves the job, for every year he remains in the position, with the bonus capped at 11 months’ pay. 

The measure passed by the council specifically says the change is not a “severance package.” But several people called it that during the meeting, including former Littleton mayor Doug Clark. 

The city charter permits a one-month severance for the city manager; any change to the charter must be approved by voters.

Clark criticized the council for engineering the move in executive sessions, which he said was also in violation of the city’s charter. He also said it amounts to a severance package even though the measure itself says it isn’t. 

“You don’t want to take this to the citizens,” Clark said. “You decided this in private by going into executive session.”

The issue divided the council as well. 

Originally the resolution to change the contract was part of the council’s consent agenda, which can be approved on a simple motion and doesn’t require discussion for each item. Yet Councilwoman Peggy Cole asked for it to be pulled for discussion. 

Cole, along with Councilmen Bruce Beckman and Jerry Valdes, voted against the change. Cole expressed appreciation for Penny’s work but said the package violates the spirit of the city charter. Cole, Beckman and Valdes said they would prefer an employee-retention policy that applies to more than one position. 

The council members who supported the measure, Jim Taylor, Bruce Stahlman, Phil Ceranec and Mayor Debbie Brinkman, said it did not constitute a severance package and instead was simply designed to encourage a good city manager to stay in his job.

“The intent was simply to provide a mechanism with which we were able to secure a qualified candidate in the most important position in the city,” Brinkman said. 

Stahlman said the discussions were held during executive session because they involved a personnel matter — one of the exemptions in the state open-meetings law that allows a public body to enter a closed session.

  

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.