Departing Pitkin County manager will receive severance pay
September 17, 2010
ASPEN – Departing Pitkin County Manager Hilary Fletcher will receive $88,500 in severance pay, equal to half of her annual salary, when she leaves the post this month to take a job in Denver.
The severance compensation is spelled out in her contract with the county. She is entitled to pay equivalent to six months of her salary should either she or the board of county commissioners cancel the contract and terminate her employment, according to the language in the pact. Fletcher can cancel the contract with 30 days prior, written notice, which she did.
“That was negotiated on my hiring,” Fletcher said Wednesday. “It existed in my predecessor’s contract, as well. That contract is essentially the same as my predecessor’s.”
Fletcher was appointed county manager in 2001 and has worked in county government for 22 years. She is currently making about $177,000 annually, according to the county human resources office.
Her first contract, signed in 2001, didn’t allow her to collect any severance pay if she quit during the initial one-year term, but granted severance equal to three months of her salary if the BOCC canceled the contract. Her salary was $95,000 at the time.
After the first year, a new contract called for severance compensation equivalent to four months of her salary, to be paid if either party terminated her employment. The severance package was increased to six months’ worth of Fletcher’s salary in 2004.
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The county manager serves at the pleasure of the BOCC, according to the contract, and can be fired at any time, with or without cause.
“It’s a tenuous place to be,” Fletcher said.
A manager who can only collect severance pay if he or she is fired may resist the inclination to resign if his or her relationship with the BOCC sours. That’s part of the rationale for a contract that provides severance compensation if the manager quits, Fletcher explained.
County Attorney John Ely, the only other county executive who serves under a contract with the BOCC, has the same provision in his contract, but Fletcher said she does not know if such a provision is common in other governments.
In Eagle County, there is no formal contract with the county manager; severance is determined on a case-by-case basis, according to Keith Montag, the Eagle County manager. Severance pay for division managers in Boulder County is left to the discretion of county commissioners in the event of a layoff, said a human resources official there.
Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick secured his first contract with the city last spring. It provides severance pay if he is fired or asked to resign, except under certain circumstances. He would not collect the severance pay if he chose to resign, said City Attorney John Worcester.
Fletcher’s current three-year contract was effective starting in January 2008 and negotiated the prior summer.
Commissioner Rachel Richards said this week she did not recall the severance provision.
“When I got on board, we basically continued the contract she already had,” Richards said.
Former Commissioner Dorothea Farris, who signed the contract on behalf of the board in August 2008, said she didn’t recall a provision for severance compensation in the event Fletcher departed of her own volition.
“I’m OK with it,” she said.
Commissioner Michael Owsley said he has no qualms with paying severance compensation to Fletcher and predicted she will be difficult to replace.
“I expect it’s going to be the most difficult thing that’s done in my tenure,” he said. “My feeling is we’re not going to get another Hilary – someone who’s as knowledgeable about the organization as Hilary was when she came into the position.”
In renewing Fletcher’s contract, the focus was on her salary, rather than the severance package, Owsley recalled.
“The truth of the matter is, I never thought she’d leave,” he said.
Fletcher, 50, submitted her resignation late last month in order to take a job with Jviation Inc., a firm that specializes in planning and engineering airport construction projects.
Phylis Mattice, internal services director, will serve as interim manager until Fletcher’s successor is chosen.
After this article was published, the county’s human resources office clarified the number of positions within county government that involve employment contracts. In addition to the county manager and county attorney, there are five other contract positions.