Spring Lake Park delays department head agreement

With the planned retirement of city of Spring Lake Park Administrator Barb Nelson, city department heads prepared a proposed written agreement for council approval that covers all the verbal agreements they had with Nelson over the years.

The proposed written agreement covers salary, hours of work, sick and vacation leave, holidays, insurance, expenses, professional development and civic club memberships as well as severance pay.

“They used the new assistant city administrator’s contract as a template,” said Marian Rygwall, park and recreation director.

The only thing that is new in the agreement is the severance pay, which was copied from the assistant administrator’s contract. It was also the only thing to which the council objected.

The only problem Mayor Cindy Hansen said she sees is the termination clause, which would pay the four department heads six months’ severance equal to their monthly pay.

The police chief, public works director, park and recreation director and the building official are all council at-will employees and it is not fair to the residents to enter into this department head employment agreement, she said during the Oct. 1 council meeting.

In researching this, Hansen said she has not found one city that has an agreement like this. The only contracts that have these types of termination clauses are for city administrators.

Councilmember Bill Nash said he could not find an agreement that was comparable to what the four department heads are asking for.

Nash is very concerned about the termination clause in the agreement and there needs to be a workshop allow the management team to discuss the issue, he said.

When the city re-organized the liquor store staff two months ago, it reduced the director of operations wage to store manager and reduced her salary, Nash said.

This proposed agreement would protect these four department heads from such re-organization, he said.

He is not comfortable granting something like this, Nash said.

While it is not common to include a termination clause in department head agreements, these are extremely skilled positions and it will take time to find new positions if the council decides to change the position, said Assistant Administrator Dan Buchholtz.

“The department heads have been extremely loyal to the city and they likely view the inclusion of the termination clause as reciprocal,” he said.

For Building Official Barry Brainard, having the agreement could be a safeguard.

“In his position, he could be punished by (future city councils) for enforcing the codes that are on the books,” he said.

The council unanimously decided to table the action on the agreement.

Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]