Ellisville City Council proposes increasing city manager’s severance package
By DIANE E. SAMSON
In a somewhat contentious Ellisville City Council meeting Nov. 7, the Council introduced a bill to revise the city’s contract with City Manager Kevin Bookout, increasing his severance package from the current six months of salary and health insurance to a cap of 12 months, beginning Dec. 20. The city manager’s severance package would increase by one month for every additional year of service up to the suggested cap.
Although Bookout has served nine years as an Ellisville employee, the bill applies to his 2006 start date as city manager.
The bill did not get far as Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul objected to the first reading because it was not put on the meeting agenda 48 hours prior to the meeting.
“They want to keep it off the public radar as long as possible,” Paul said. “They threw it on a regular session agenda 24 hours before the meeting, and I view it as a sign of disrespect to residents, taxpayers and myself.”
Paul said he is pleased with Bookout’s service to the city. His objections had to do with the premise of the bill, saying that it is unreasonable to raise the city manager’s severance during tough economic times for both Ellisville taxpayers and the city.
“This is an economy in which people are struggling to find jobs, (in which) a councilmember has stated that we’ve lost a third of our budget and another councilmember has concerns about going bankrupt,” Paul said. “You don’t amend a contract unless it benefits the city.”
Councilmember Matt Pirrello (District 1) said that the purpose of the bill was to reward the city manager for his years of good service and is commensurate with surrounding communities, such as Chesterfield, Ballwin and Town & Country. He said he believes that 12 months of severance is appropriate for the job of city manager. Ballwin’s package, for example, is 12 months of salary plus two additional weeks for every year since 2005 for its city administrator.
“Kevin has been a good steward, has managed the budget well, kept us afloat,” said Pirrello. “He’s been exemplary in all his actions. You sum all of that up and this is a guy who is worth it.”
The mayor did not deny Bookout’s worth, but he did express concern that altering the city manager’s contract in this way would tie the hands of future Councils to be able to remove the city manager if necessary because it would be expensive to do so. Paul also expressed concern about the definition of the word “cause” in the ordinance.
City Attorney Paul Martin assured Mayor Paul that the definition of “cause” was in the employment contract and that the Council can still remove the city manager at will.
Pirello added that this (the bill) would protect Bookout if a future Council decides to let him go for no reason. However, he noted that if the city manager is not performing, the Council can still release him with no severance.
Paul said he believes there are better ways to retain a good city manager, such as giving him a bonus if he saved the city a certain amount of money.
The man behind the discussion, Bookout, summed up his position this way: “My position is to carry out the legislation that the Council passes and do what is in the best interest of the city. It’s supposed to be apolitical, but sometimes can be volatile because I serve at the will of the Council. For that reason, six to 12 months of severance is within the range of normal for a city manager.”
The Council now has the option to withdraw the bill from consideration or move forward and try for a second reading at a still-to-be-scheduled meeting.