When Salt Lake City's fleet manager left last month to take a higher paying job in Virginia, he took along a $10,000 check, thanks to the city's lucrative executive severance program.
The departure of Jerry Sloan after only 11/2 years - especially ironic because the city paid him a $17,000 moving allowance to lure him here from North Carolina - is the latest example of city executive flight.The city has paid $365,000 in severance benefits for the 11 bosses who have left for greener pastures since 1985, by buying 100 percent of an executive's accrued vacation and sick time.
In comparison, most private sector personnel policies pay only for unused vacation time. In addition, the city's plan pays two months' salary to those executives who are fired or asked to leave.
One City Hall employee said the lucrative buy-out plan makes it financially unwise for the city's top-level bosses not to be looking for other jobs.
Karen Suzuki-Hashimoto, human resources manager, agreed the amount of Sloan's payment check seemed high, after only 11/2 years of employment. "There must have been some kind of deal cut with Jerry," she said.
Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis said he inherited the city's executive compensation policies from former Mayor Ted Wilson. He has asked Suzuki-Hashimoto to study compensation policies and expects a recommendation as early as July 1.
The plan was designed to provide a "golden parachute" for executives forced out of their jobs due to the whims of political life, DePaulis said, as city executives are appointees without merit protection. "But I don't
want to send the signal to all the executives that I'm out to rift their benefits."
"It's for the people who are vulnerable to changes in political administrations," said City Finance Director Lance Bateman. "If Merrill Cook would have been elected (in the 1985 mayoral election) we could have all been out." However, only one of the 11 executives who have taken advantage of the plan in the past three years was forced to leave. The majority moved on to higher-paying positions.
The plan rewards departing executives - regardless of their years of service - with similar or higher buy-outs than earned through years of employment under the city's early retirement incentive program.
Under early retirement, employees with 25 years of service receive all their vacation time and two months' base pay but only 75 percent of accrued sick leave.
The highest individual executive buy-out was $55,000, Susuzi-Hashimoto said. One notable recipient under the plan was its author, Al Haines, who was the city's chief administrative officer under Wilson and who was asked to leave by Mayor Palmer DePaulis.
Other executives who have taken advantage of the program include City Councilman Willie Stoler, a former police major, and more recently, Police Chief E.L. "Bud" Willoughby. Others include Cheryl Cook, former city treasurer who now heads the Salt Lake office of an investment banking firm; Wally Miller, former deputy city attorney who is now Sandy city attorney; and John Hiskey, former economic development director who now heads the county's public works department.