The Morrow City Council voted unanimously, Tuesday, to change the town’s charter to allow the governing body to issue employee contracts for the city manager position.
City officials said the move does not require the council to issue a contract for whoever holds the city manager position, but they added that it does create the framework for what a contract would include, such as expectations for the position and a severance-pay clause.
City Attorney Laurel Henderson said it creates a sense of security for any one who applies for the position, and could help attract strong candidates, if the position ever becomes available. She and current City Manager Jeff Eady added, however, that there are no plans for him to leave the position anytime soon.
“It [the ordinance] does not require such a contract, but it allows you to create such a contract, if you choose to do so,” Henderson told councilmembers. “We don’t anticipate Jeff going anywhere, but when one hires a city manager, there is a sense of protection [that is desired by candidates for the position], provided they are not doing any wrong-doing.”
The council’s decision opens the door for a fundamental change in how the city manager is employed by the city, particularly in the area of the termination of employment of someone who holds the position, according to Eady. He said the town’s current system allows a city manager to be fired for any reason, as long as three out of four city councilmembers vote for it. He said there is no severance pay for the position.
“Basically, our employees are protected by the [city’s] personnel rules and regulations, and the city manager works at will,” Eady said. “A contract is not abnormal. It’s a normal document for a city manager position [in other cities], because it is a political position, and it just affords the city manager some protection, especially during an election year [as is the case this year].
“So, if the council decides they want to go in a different direction, it affords them the opportunity to offer a severance package,” he added.
The ordinance approved this week stipulates that the council can terminate the city manager’s employment “at any time, for any reason not prohibited by law, or for no reason whatsoever.” It further stipulates, however, that the council would be required to pay up to six months worth of severance pay to the city manager.
The only way the council could get around giving severance pay to the person holding the position is if the reason for his, or her, firing was outlined in the contract as grounds for voiding any entitlement to that money.
The employment contract length for a city manager cannot exceed four years, according to the ordinance.
City Councilmember Mason Barfield said Morrow is following the lead of other cities that typically offer employment contracts, which outline work goals, and employee protections, to their own city managers. In addition to being a councilmember, Barfield is also Morrow’s mayor pro tempore.
“In light of how things are done in cities today, there is a certain amount of security that contracts can bring, and they really work to help both sides,” Barfield said. “It helps the person getting the contract, and it works in the best interest of the city, to make sure the expectations you have are carried out.
“This city has really gone through so many years of not having contractual agreements for people serving in that capacity. It’s time for us to step to the plate and be in line with what other cities are doing, which is being able to spell out in more detail what those expectations are.”
Barfield added that the council’s move is not a reaction to issues involving former city manager (and former councilmember), John Lampl, who has been criticized for the way he oversaw the creation of the Olde Towne Morrow complex, while serving as city manager.
Lampl was indicted in Clayton County Superior Court earlier this year, and is awaiting trial, on a long list of charges, including allegedly giving false statements, committing perjury and conspiracy in restraint of free and open competition, that stem from the way he developed the Olde Towne property.
Court records show the case is scheduled to be on the Oct. 31 Superior Court jury trial calendar.
“This [ordinance] would have happened whether he [Lampl] was still city manager, or not,” Barfield said.