Friday, May 5, 2006

Goodbyes cost Ketchum $200,000


Goodbyes can be difficult—and often expensive.

The city of Ketchum has given some departing employees a heartfelt goodbye or a bonus paycheck. In one case, an employee was simply shown the door.

Here is a partial list of recent payments to city employees, be they legal fees incurred by the city or simply a generous bonus.

· Ron Taylor, a sergeant with the Blaine County Sheriff's Department, was hired by former Mayor Ed Simon in 2002 to be the new assistant police chief despite objections from then-Chief Cal Nevland, who had already promoted Ketchum Lt. Mike McNeil to the post.

McNeil filed a lawsuit naming Ketchum and Simon as defendants. The lawsuit sought declaratory relief on who has hire-and-fire authority.

McNeil filed a separate grievance with the Ketchum City Council.

The City Council decided to settle with everybody. Taylor was awarded a $65,000 settlement, and returned to the Sheriff's Office. McNeil was promoted to assistant chief with the stipulation that Nevland and McNeil drop their suit against the city. Cost to Ketchum: $65,000.

· Steve Linden, a computer consultant for the Ketchum Police Department, wrote two letters to the editor criticizing former Mayor Ed Simon and his handling of the McNeil/Taylor dispute. The dispute began late in December 2003 when Linden showed up at Ketchum City Hall to work on the Police Department's computer network and was asked to leave and not return.

Linden filed suit and won. He was awarded $3,525 in legal fees, and received a letter of apology from Simon.

Linden said he declined a financial settlement offer from the city, because he did not believe Ketchum taxpayers should have to pay for their city's mistakes. Cost to Ketchum: $3,525.

· Jim Jaquet, a longtime city administrator, received a $25,000 parting gift from the city, pushed through at the last minute by then-Mayor David Hutchinson in 2002. The outgoing mayor called the retirement bonus a "performance incentive" and said Jaquet had been under-compensated during his 25 years with the city.

Then-Councilman Maurice Charlat wanted to delay the decision, but his motion did not get a second. Cost to Ketchum: $25,000.

· Randy Hall, a paramedic with the Ketchum Fire Department and a City Council member, was sued by the city in 2004 for allegedly violating state conflict-of-interest laws.

The city needed to be "protected" from Hall maintaining both jobs, then-Mayor Ed Simon said in 2004, adding, "It's rife with all sorts of claims of impropriety."

Simon instructed the city attorney to get an opinion from the Idaho attorney general on whether Hall had a conflict of interest.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane determined that "it appears (Hall) may be in violation of Idaho Code."

The city filed suit against Hall, and Hall then filed a counter suit against the city. Eventually, Hall switched to volunteer status at the Fire Department, essentially rendering the issue moot. The suit was dismissed and Hall was awarded a portion of his legal fees.

Hall later challenged Simon for mayor and won. Cost to Ketchum: $5,200.

· The resignation of former Ketchum Fire Chief Greg Schwab won't be effective until Oct. 20, or until he finds a new job. But last month he and the City Council signed a separation agreement, placing him on unpaid administrative leave. In exchange for what a City Council resolution called a "voluntary resignation," the city resolved to pay Schwab $100,000 as well as all accrued and unused vacation. Cost to Ketchum: more than $100,000.

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