City manager contract draws criticism

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Michael Penny’s contract, amended for a second time March 19, has been the subject of public scrutiny since he became Littleton’s first city manager to have one.

The first amendment to Penny’s contract added longevity pay, and the most recent one attempts to clarify how that money will be paid to the city manager. The latest amendment passed 4-3, with councilors Bruce Beckman, Peggy Cole and Jerry Valdes against. All three said they had no problem with Penny or his performance, they just weren’t comfortable with the contract as written.

Local activists are arguing the contract violates the charter, and Cole was concerned enough to ask for more discussion before voting March 19. At issue is the negotiated longevity pay that gives Penny one month’s salary for each year worked, up to 11 months, to be paid all at once upon his departure if he leaves in good favor.

The city’s charter says nothing about longevity pay for the city manager, but it requires severance pay — the balance of the month plus another month — should he be terminated for any reason.

“I believe it violates the spirit of the charter,” said Cole, noting benefits are usually paid over the course of one’s tenure, not at the end.

The city charter covers some of the terms of Penny’s employment, but former City Attorney Kirsten Crawford told council when they approved the contract last year that it is more specific and detailed than the charter provisions, and it can be revised.

“The city would have the ability (under the contract) to provide little or no severance to the city manager if he is terminated for cause, such as malfeasance of office, illegal activities, etc.,” Crawford, who resigned in February, wrote in a memo. “On the other hand, the city could provide a larger severance if the city manager is terminated for reasons that are not necessarily his fault, such as disability, inability to perform, etc.”

“A camel is a horse created by a committee, and that is absolutely what happened here,” said Beckman. He said the contract is confusing, and he didn’t want to be responsible for approving something that might give future councils problems.

Several councilors defended their method and intent.

“Our intent was simply to provide a mechanism to secure a qualified candidate for the most important position in the city,” said Mayor Debbie Brinkman.

Councilors Jim Taylor and Phil Cernanec said Littleton doesn’t pay its manager as much as some cities, and called the pay a reward designed to make the job more competitive.

Councilor Bruce Stahlman pointed out they had special legal counsel review the contract, and it passed muster.

“I fear this truly has ended up as a situation where no good deed goes unpunished,” he said.

Penny became Littleton’s city manager in October 2011 following the retirement of Jim Woods. He worked for six months without a contract, until it was finalized in March 2012.

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