Second Thoughts: Severance package designed to put the past in the past
by By Jon Mendelson / Tracy Press
Sep 02, 2011 | 5176 views | 19 19 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With former police Chief Janet Thiessen’s official end-of-service papers signed Aug. 22, the city has signaled its intent to, as City Manager Leon Churchill said this week, “put our past in the past.”

Indeed, cementing that chapter of city history in the past appears to be the primary motivation behind the severance package given to Thiessen upon her exit.

According to the separation agreement, the city offered six months’ salary and health insurance payments ($80,000 and $9,930.18, respectively) “in consideration for Thiessen’s waivers and releases….”

Those releases include “any and all claims that she might possibly have against the city, whether she is aware of them or not.” In other words, Thiessen cannot sue the city of Tracy for any reason relating to her employment as the city’s top cop. When it comes to severance agreements, it’s pretty standard stuff.

Some might see that as paying for peace of mind in a litigious society. Others might call it a payoff.

Churchill said it was a smart business decision.

“The city gets the assurance knowing all potential claims have been surrendered,” he explained. “There were no concerns in this situation, but any severance agreement creates a specific benefit for both parties for a specific financial commitment without any lingering costs. It’s good business.”

In light of a comment Thiessen made in an interview with another media outlet after announcing her resignation — “I would say for some people, it is gender-related. There are still attitudes that some people do not want to see a woman in this position — that it’s difficult for them to take orders from a woman.” — heading off a potential discrimination suit might have been the prudent move.

In a theoretical lawsuit, even if the city were found in the right by the courts, such a case could easily cost the city north of $100,000, according to Bill Gorham, a respected civil attorney with Mayall, Hurley, Knutsen, Smith & Green in Stockton.

And that is if the city were able to defend itself. If such a suit against the city succeeded, the city would likely be liable for the plaintiff’s attorney fees as well as any award for damages. Which could be sizable, since we’re talking about a high-compensation employee like a police chief.

Essentially, the $90,000 is the price of eliminating that potential risk, and it’s a “reasonable” price, according to Gorham.

That’s the business calculus.

The moral calculus is a little hazier. Some in the community see the severance as an undeserved reward for quitting or for not doing a particularly good job. Or both.

Thiessen said she resigned for mostly personal reasons. But it’s also true that she resigned after serious concerns were raised about her ability to handle the internal goings on at the department.

My guess is that’s one reason Chief Gary Hampton was selected so quickly as a replacement: He knows Tracy, and he comes with a reputation as a straight-shooter who knows how to deal with the politics of a police department.

Churchill said this week that the severance was no off-the-cuff decision.

“The severance agreement was the result of numerous discussions, not the original

circumstances for Chief Thiessen’s departure from the city,” he said.

Read between the lines: It’s business calculus.

Churchill added that the language in the separation agreement saying Thiessen “enters into this agreement voluntarily” refers specifically to that compact.

He also assured that the decision to grant the package met both the spirit and the content of a May City Council decision that gave the city manager authority to offer such severance packages to department heads who involuntarily resign or are fired. Plus, the severance was signed and vetted by the city attorney.

Read again: This wasn’t a voluntary resignation.

So, is the protection from possible future lawsuits against a cash-strapped city worth paying a severance to a chief who, by many accounts, needed to leave anyway for the good of the city? It depends on your perspective.

In terms of eliminating possible risk, it makes sense from the city’s standpoint.

But from outside City Hall, it’s a truly bitter pill to swallow, whether the business calculus computes or not.



A queen of a pageant

Taking in the Bean Queen and Princess Pageant inside the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts this past Saturday, it struck me that every city should have its own pageant. At least, every city that wants to hold on to its small-town character.

The pageant, with the princess and queen candidates speaking, performing and generally lighting up the stage to unconditional applause, is a burst of Americana that fits our tight-knit roots to a “T.”

Plus, it’s a chance for the next generation of Tracy women — bright, engaging girls — to shine in front of parents, peers and perfect strangers.

“I think everybody who comes to these pageants is impressed by the caliber of these young ladies,” said pageant director Juana Dement.

I couldn’t agree more.



Rocking the block

While the girls shone inside the Grand, outside boasted the perfect complement to an idyllic Central Valley summer evening: a block party.

Underneath lights strung above the Central Avenue and Sixth Street lot, oldies rock played, classic cars gleamed and just enough libations flowed to keep the crowd dancing, talking and smiling. I visited during the intermission of the pageant, and I didn’t want to leave once I got there.

If you haven’t been to one of the events sponsored by the city, Chamber of Commerce and Tracy City Center Association, go. There are two parties left this summer. My advice is to gather some friends, grab a drink and get ready to dance.

Because, yes, there are fun things to do in Tracy.

• Second Thoughts is an opinion

column by Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts with him at jmendelson@tracypress.com.
Comments
(19)
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Wobbley
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September 06, 2011
So she can still get paid for not doing her job! What a deal-:D.
pinkwillow
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September 06, 2011
Chillibill,

Any moron that's arrested can sue when they are arrested, it's nothing more than one side of a story. It doesn't mean it happened the way denham said it did. For once I'm with Ornley and let's see what shakes out in court.

Police departments are frequently sued, it's a hazard of being a law enforcement officer.
sweetleaf
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September 04, 2011
@chillbill

I also took a look at the same link and explained to tommybahama that the link says the defendant doesn't know who the police officers were.

eL

a

29. Mr. Denman does not know the names of the police officers who were involved in the incident.

Read more: Tracy Press - Update Heavily armed men rob Uncle Credit Union

chilibill
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September 04, 2011
Actully Mr. Gumfudgen, here is an example of one of those speculations becoming reality: http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/02/04/CivRts.pdf

This is the link to the Denman vs. The City of Tracy & Janet Thiessen civil rights suit referrenced by Mr. Miles in a previous article. It appears to be a reality as it has been assigned a case number by the Eastern District of California Federal Court.

This is just one I am certain there are many more if you care to check.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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September 04, 2011
chilibill

Realties? Surly ya jest. Speculations turn inta realities when thair's fact ta back em up with. What realities have been proven?

apathy has th right idea here, we ain't ever gonna find out th facts until th parties involved that have em show em an that ain't gonna happen; that is a fact until it changes.
baragon
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September 03, 2011
" I would say for some people, it is gender related..."

To consider a different take on the responses to this article I'd point out that one of the risks of affirmative action, I believe is giving value in hiring someone who follows in one of the "protected classes" and they turn out to be the wrong hire for what ever reason you risk complaints or threat of lawsuit for discrimination. In this case, I believe extra consideration was given to the fact she was a woman. She was definitly qualified in many ways but for what ever reason she became problematic. As a woman and a member of a protected class she has the opportunity to claim she was descriminated against and forced to resign because she was a woman and not because she was perceived as being problematic for whatever reason. It's similar to what I see happen with Obama. I believe that many individuals voted for him because he was an articulate black man. Now he's in there to voice objection to his policies you are quickly perceived and treated as a racist. It's a no win.
tommybahama
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September 03, 2011
Your comment was funny Constipated and I got a good chuckle out of it myself. The truth is they are walnut shells and aluminum foil not peanut shells.
apathy
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September 03, 2011
First of all......thank you, thank you, thank you "Constipated" for such insightful comments. I'm still smiling. Not bad for a Saturday morning.

As for those of you who want to read the results of investigations and closed session Council meetings -- it' ain't gonna happen. Investigations and action taken regarding personnel matters are protected by confidentiality laws. You may think you're entitled because taxpayer money pays public employee salaries, but there's a limit to what can and will be divulged, even through public records requests.
chilibill
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September 03, 2011
It is apparent these speculations are becoming realities at a more frequent rate than you would like to admit Mr. Gumfudgen.

One can only hope the City Council's legal advisor is fully informing them of the status of these investigations; otherwise they will most likely expose themselves to civil and criminal liabilities.
constipated
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September 03, 2011
tommybahama and pcmiles started the anti inside the triangle website that consists of deeply held beliefs of secret government plots and well documented reports of alien probings that have occurred during actual city council meetings. These two were last spotted downtown, sober but still wearing the hats they made from aluminum foil and peanut shells.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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September 03, 2011
pcmiles

Sorry but ya only got one fact frum March 15th an it don't show th outcome of th investigation.

On May 7th what ya got is not a fact but an allegation. Who is th "I" in th sentence. Is it you?

On June 8th she announced her resignation. Yer assumption is it had ta do with th allegation. Could be true, could be false. We don't KNOW now do we? And we may never really know.

As ta City Council's independent investigation on March 15th. Since th City Manager an Mr. Sodergren are still around IF they were involved in all of this "allegation of misconduct" which IF true, would include "felony violations of California law" it wouldn't make much sense fer city council members to be complicit in that crime, assumin it was true, by coverin it up.

Fer one, th rewards of bein an elected city counsel member ain't worth th risk of bein put in th slammer an havin yer name dragged through th mud of public opinion ta cover up a felony.

Until ya know precisely what went on in that meetin an precisely why she resigned an was given her walkin papers with her severance package, all ya got is nothin more than speculation an editor of a paper flames fer advertisin dollars.
tommybahama
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September 03, 2011
Thank you for sharing those facts Mr. Miles. They shed some light on the sudden departure of ms. thiessen and the quick selection of Chief Hampton.
pcmiles
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September 03, 2011
Here are some facts “fer all ta see”:

- On March 15, in closed session, the City Council voted to have an independent investigation conducted into allegations of misconduct, including felony violations of California law, on the part of several City staff, including Ms. Thiessen, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Sodergren, and several subordinate TPD officers

- On May 7, I met with Mr. J. Sloan and Mr. J. Ng of the Public Law Group, and provided then information documenting and supporting the allegations, including witness interviews recorded by the TPD. I agreed to let the investigation run its course without public comment or interference

- On June 8 Ms. Thiessen announced her resignation

- I have had no response from the City regarding the disposition of the investigation, after nearly 6 months. The waiting game is now over

pcmiles
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September 03, 2011
Here are some opinions:

- The investigation was paid for with taxpayer dollars. If the senior leadership of the City government has lied to the citizens and the City Council, and/or violated the law, the taxpayers deserve to know about it. The City should publish the results of the investigation to the fullest extent permitted by law

- If the investigation supported even a fraction of the allegations made, then there was just cause to terminate Ms. Thiessen’s employment. The idea that the severance package was insurance against litigation is simply fiction

ertion
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September 02, 2011
what a weird column. "put the past in the past"? No complaints about severance in general, but how long has she worked here? $90K seems a bit steep given her years of service and her base pay. It smacks of crony-ism to me.

still, agree with Ornery. Precious little facts for us to agree or disagree on with Mr. Jon.
newtotracy
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September 02, 2011
My take-away from this article? If you are going to have a high profile job...and you decide to quit (whether personal or just getting out before you get canned)...be sure to give an article and say something that MIGHT be construed as something that you could be sued for. Then you'll get severence. Boom!

I'm glad she can't sue the city...but seriously...I've never made 90k in a year, nevermind 6 months. But I get to help pay the bill...and those of us paying? Well, welcome to less people who do the work we need being there to help us.

With the quality of our "leaders"...I'll take the serfs and peons of our society any day! (no offense to any serfs or peons out there...I'm one too...and proud to be one at this point!)
AugustMarch
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September 02, 2011
I have long thought that tommybahama worked for the Tracy Press.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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September 02, 2011
"Second Thoughts: Severance package designed to put the past in the past"

Read between th lines, "We need to increase advertizing dollar income fer our newspaper so we're gonna stir th caldron one more time with speculative reportin."

Come on Jon, yer a better writer than that or is TP becomin a supermarket tabloid?

If ya got th facts, print em fer all ta see instead of this yellow dog journalism we see here about th speculative reasons th Chief resigned an why a severance package was paid.

mnwild
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September 02, 2011
Most folks don't realize severance packages are given all the time in BOTH the public and private sector. It's just more "visual" when it's taxpayer money. Sometimes the value of the person's "silence" more than justifies the $$$$ given. Someone with first-hand information that could call into question decisions made by current and/or past employees is "handled" by these types of packages (which always include non-disclosure, hold harmless clauses). From an ethical perspective it may seem WRONG, but we've all heard stories about the fallout from cases where a person's integrity is called into question and then it's determined nothing wrong happened. This is a way to minimize that fallout for a company or government entity, ultimately benefitting everyone involved.


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