By Katie Dahlstrom
---- — CLINTON — Mayor Mark Vulich has vetoed the Clinton City Council’s decision to offer City Attorney Jeff Farwell a six-month severance package, calling the severance an injustice to the citizens of Clinton.
In a statement issued Thursday, Vulich said the council was justified in asking for Farwell’s resignation during the Dec. 10 meeting, but not in awarding him a severance package of six months of salary and six months of health insurance.
“In good conscious, I cannot sign this resolution as approved by the council since the severance package was increased to six months,” Vulich wrote.
According to his contract, Farwell would be offered a three-month severance package if the council asked for his resignation. During the Dec. 10 meeting, former At-Large Councilwoman Jennifer Graf suggested the council award Farwell a six-month severance package. A letter Farwell gave to Graf before that meeting noted what his contract called for, but also informed her the council was “free to offer anything” it wished.
While the council during the Dec. 20 meeting attempted to amend the separation agreement to the three-months stipulated in the contract, the motion failed on a 4-2 vote. Former Ward 3 Councilwoman Bev Hermann voted against the amendment, though she said, “I voted wrong,” after the amendment failed.
“This attempt at an amendment indicated to me that the City Council had second thoughts about the six month severance package,” Vulich wrote.
The six-month package that was ultimately approved 5-1 would have cost the city $56,000.
Vulich took time in his veto letter to explain his thoughts on the council asking for Farwell’s resignation.
“I feel Mr. Farwell has been an excellent city attorney and do not agree with the actions by the City Council to request his resignation. However, it is the prerogative of the council to terminate the city attorney’s contract at anytime, per the contract the city council and Mr. Farwell entered into at the time of his hire,” Vulich wrote. “I also am of the opinion that the city must fulfill the terms of Mr. Farwell’s contract and pay a three months severance. I feel it is an injustice to the citizens of Clinton to increase the severance package to six months given the difficult economic state of the city of Clinton.”
Vulich had until the end of the day Thursday to veto, sign or allow the resolution to go into effect without his signature. Farwell’s last day with the city was Thursday, the same day his severance package was set to be in effect.
Vulich’s veto doesn’t entirely resolve the matter as it could be overridden. Five of the seven council members would need to vote in favor of the resolution calling for a six-month severance package within 30 days to override the veto. If it was overridden, the resolution would immediately be effective.
However, the council voting on the override would not be the same council that approved the settlement agreement on Dec. 20. Four new council members were sworn in Thursday. The new members will meet for the first council meeting on Jan. 14.
Current At-large Coucilman John Rowland and Ward 1 Councilwoman Julie Allesee voted in favor of the three-month amendment during the Dec. 20 meeting. When asked about overriding the veto, Rowland said he would have to wait and see, instead focusing on his disapproval of the mayor’s action.
“I’m disappointed the mayor would do something silly like this over $28,000. He’s been in office for years and the city has acquired millions of dollars in debt. I find it funny he’s now becoming a watchdog of the city’s money after running the train into the ditch,” Rowland said.
Rowland also decried the mayor’s use of a veto on a contract between one of the two employees hired by the council, the other being the city administrator.
“How can he veto something that by contract calls for only the council,” Rowland said. “Clearly he has no authority.”
According to Iowa Code, the mayor can veto an amendment, resolution or ordinance within 14 days as long as he is not entitled to vote at the time of passage. The mayor is required to issue a written statement for his reasons to the council members.
Ward 2 Councilwoman Lynn McGraw indicated she would vote against a severance package beyond the scope of Farwell’s contract.
“I feel like we need to give him three months,” McGraw said. “I don’t care what we did in the past. There’s been a lot of reference to that. I think it’s too bad for Jeff, but that’s what his contract states.”
The references to the past have been to former City Administrator Jeff Horne’s severance package, which was for six months as dictated by his contract.
At-Large Councilman Grant Wilke said he would need to really look at the issue before deciding on whether or not to override the mayor’s veto, although he expressed concern about departing from the agreement Farwell signed when the council hired him in 2010.
“A contract is a contract,” Wilke said. “Whenever you deviate from a contract there’s always an impact on other areas and then where do you stop?