The former clinical director of Timpanogos Community Mental Health Center was fired Wednesday - and then offered a contract to work 40 hours a week at $40 an hour.

Dr. Richard Spencer, suspended last month from his administrative position, was dismissed as a merit employee in a formal hearing with the Timp Mental Health Authority Board.After four hours of deliberation and a second vote, the board agreed to offer Spencer a contract to work 40 hours a week at $40 an hour in direct patient care, but without benefits. This contract will include being paid one hour for every four hours on call; the contract could be terminated after more information is learned in audits and criminal investigations.

"We did what we think is right and fair to the center and to Dr. Spencer," Utah County Commissioner Gary Anderson said. "It was a very, very tough decision." In its first vote, the board was split. County commissioners from Utah, Summit and Wasatch counties constitute the Timp board.

Spencer and seven other administrators were suspended April 13 following allegations they mismanaged more than $3.5 million in funds at the center.

Spencer will not decide whether to accept the contract offer until his attorney receives written notification of the board's reasons for his termination. Until then, Spencer plans to continue working at the center - with or without pay. "It is my inclination that I'll be taking care of patients (tomorrow) morning."

Spencer said he has received several employment offers in the past month that would give him a substantial pay increase, but he hasn't yet accepted any because his devotion rests with his patients at Timp Mental Health.

"There's a special fulfillment you get for treating patients who are not just ill, but have unfortunate circumstances. I would like to continue serving them."

The board is requiring Spencer to pay back all personal expenses incurred on the center credit card given to him. An accounting of his personal charges will be made by an audit team working under the direction of the center's interim management team. Legislative auditors say Spencer paid himself $9,400 from credit card allowances last year.

Anderson said it is possible Spencer may be reconsidered for a merit position at the health center, but not "until all investigations are available."

Dave Lambert, acting attorney for Timp Mental Health, said Spencer's merit status was terminated for lack of carrying out his duties as clinical director.

Spencer's attorney, Doug Perry, questioned the board's reasons for dismissing and demoting the psychiatrist and said he hopes the basis for the action "wasn't just politics."

Anderson said he voted to reinstate Spencer as a merit employee, and if politics would have entered into it he would have voted differently. "I think the easy political decision would have been to vote to remove him. The public is decrying this, but they don't know all the facts. We may yet know all the facts.

"We have a center to run and a person's life to consider. There is no time for politics - only time to make the best decision we know how to make."

He said the board took a long, hard look at Spencer's culpability, professional effectiveness, administrative effectiveness and knowledge of what went on at the center. "We looked at that in detail and discussed it."

Like every mental health center in the state, Timp Mental Health is understaffed, Anderson said. "Psychiatrists are hard to find - the center needs Spencer's skills. He has a good rapport with patients."

Of the eight administrators suspended last month, only two have requested a hearing to be reinstated at the center - Spencer and Program Director Jim Schwartz. Three submitted their resignations - Executive Director Glen Brown, Finance Director Craig Stevens and Youth Program Director Carl Smith.

Anderson said Spencer's "decision has no effect on other hearings. Each employee who requests a hearing will be reviewed on his own merits."