Johnson’s severance package could turn out to be lucrative

Published 5:15 pm Thursday, December 13, 2007

By Staff
Fired town manager may get payoff equal to nine months’ salary
Special to the Daily News
Tim Johnson, the Belhaven town manager who was fired Monday, stands to benefit from a lucrative severance package that’s part of his contract with the town.
Johnson could receive up to nine months’ salary as part of that severance package.
Johnson’s contract with the town stipulates: “The Governing Body and its members shall deal with employees of the Community solely through the Local Government Manager and neither the council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinate of the Local Government Manager, either publicly or privately.”
The contract further stipulates: “If said termination occurs within six months of the election, swearing in and seating of new Council members, then in that event Employer agrees to pay employee a lump sum cash payment equal to nine months aggregate compensation. The Manager shall also be compensated for all earned sick leave, vacation, holidays, and other accrued benefits to date, calculated at the rate of pay in effect upon termination.”
Johnson’s pay rate, according to one Belhaven council member who asked not to be identified, is around $98,000 a year.
The contract also specifies that if the town manager is terminated by the council “all life, health, dental, and disability insurance and all other Community provided benefits shall continue in full force and coverage, at community expense for a period of six months or until similar coverage is provided to employee by a subsequent employer ( and is in full force and effect) whichever comes first.”
According to Johnson’s contract, only “in the event the Manager is terminated because of his conviction of any illegal act involving personal gain to himself, then in that event Employer shall have no obligation to pay the aggregate final compensation sum designated herein.”
The contract further stipulates that the manager “serves at the pleasure of the Council and nothing herein shall be taken to imply or suggest a guaranteed tenure.”
Johnson’s contract was signed Sept. 21, 1998, by Dr. Charles O. Boyette, mayor at the time; Johnson, Marie J. Adams, the town clerk; and Keith B. Mason, the town’s attorney at the time.
Johnson did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment,
Arthur Cockrell, the town’s new attorney, said legal actions by the town regarding Johnson’s contract are protected under the attorney-client privilege.
Meanwhile, the transition from Johnson’s tenure as town manager to the just-started tenure of Guinn Leverett as the town’s interim manager appears to be going smoothly.
Leverett has made at least one major change in policy since replacing Johnson.
Leverett said Belhaven’s department heads “were not allowed to talk to Town Council members. That’s what they said. They asked me could they respond to questions from council members, and I said absolutely — they’re your bosses. They’re my bosses.