The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

December 19, 2013

Incoming council questions Farwell resignation

Members don't agree with 6-month severance

By Katie Dahlstrom
Assistant Editor

---- — CLINTON — The new Clinton City Council members should have legal representation of their choice, outgoing at-large Councilwoman Jennifer Graf said last week when she asked for City Attorney Jeff Farwell’s resignation.

If that’s the case, some incoming council members want to know, why is the current council voting on Farwell’s resignation and offering him a $56,000 severance package?  

All four of the incoming council members said this week that they were caught off guard on Dec. 10 when a Committee of the Whole agenda item listed as “city attorney performance evaluation” turned into Farwell agreeing to resign and the council offering him six months of severance pay and health insurance benefits, double what his contract stipulates.  

During the Dec. 10 meeting, Graf made the motion asking for Farwell’s resignation, which current Ward 2 Councilwoman Julie Allesee (who will start serving Ward 1 in January) quickly seconded. All council members forwarded the motion, except for Ward 4 Councilman Paul Gassman, who is staying on the council.   

Farwell agreed with the sentiment that with four new members, the new council should have the attorney it wants.

“I was surprised at the action,” At-large Councilman-elect Grant Wilke said. “If this is something the council has been thinking about why did this come to the very last meeting of the year and their tenure?”  

A review of Farwell’s latest performance evaluation showed a council with mixed feelings. On a one-to-five scale, Farwell garnered scores of three and above in all but one of 37 performance measures.

Comments, which are not associated with specific members, ranged from applauding Farwell’s work with the council, mayor and two different city managers to criticizing him for the amount of lawsuits the city faced and lost.

“This has been a difficult time period, and you have been our rock,” one council member wrote.

“The city attorney is too far removed from day-to-day discussions with council,” according to another.  

If approved during the City Council meeting Friday and signed by Mayor Mark Vulich, Farwell’s resignation will take effect Jan 2., the same day the new council takes office. This concerns incoming Ward 2 Councilwoman Lynn McGraw because it’s unclear where she will direct her legal questions.

Like Wilke, McGraw questioned the timing and motive for the council’s request.

“I feel like if the current council was truly concerned about the new council, we should have been allowed to make that decision once we were sworn in,” McGraw said.   

While Wilke and McGraw questioned the timing, fellow councilman-elect, future Ward 3 representative Ed O’Neill, didn’t feel the decision was being taken out of new council members’ hands.  

“If that’s what he wants to do that’s fine. I don’t think there’s any point in keeping someone who doesn’t want to stay,” O’Neill said. “If there’s someone there who doesn’t want to be, I don’t want them there.”  

O’Neill did share Wilke’s sentiment that the severance was cumbersome. Neither believe in severance being offered, but agreed that because it is in Farwell’s contract, the city should honor the three-month payout.

Farwell’s contract states if he is terminated while still being able to do his job, he would receive three months of aggregate salary. However, the contract makes no mention of severance if he voluntarily resigns without the council first asking him to tender his resignation.

Instead of three months, the council unanimously voted to offer him six months of salary and health insurance, which will cost the city $45,646 and $10,920, respectively. When making the motion, Graf noted it was the same package offered to former City Administrator Jeff Horne.  

The amount of money the city will pay Farwell also bothered at-large Councilman-elect Tom Determann, who felt the council should have done Farwell’s performance evaluation in the open and then handed the decision to the incoming council.  

“I totally disagree with what they’re doing, especially the payout,” he said. “I think they should change their decision. It should be our decision not theirs.”

Vulich has the authority to veto the resolutions accepting Farwell’s resignation and severance package within 14 days of the vote being taken. Council members would then have 30 days to override his veto, which would require support from five of the seven council members.  

Vulich, who voiced opposition to the council’s request during the Dec. 10 meeting, did not respond to requests for comment.  

If approved, Farwell’s severance will come from the city attorney’s budget, which originally included $250,000 to get the city through the end of the legal malpractice trial that it lost in October. However, because the city changed the contract with Chicago law firm Hannafan and Hannafan to a contingency contract, the city didn’t use the entire budget.  

The new council would discuss the desired direction for the city attorney position during its first meeting Jan. 14.