In mid-Michigan there's no better place to be hired and fail than Lansing.
The city announced last week that it would pay its attorney $160,662.79 to just go away. Janene McIntyre, who was hired in March 2013, had in fact been absent since early January.
She returned to work last week and for at least a few days seemed ready to work. It fooled at least some City Council members, who it turns out were suckered by McIntyre and Mayor Virg Bernero. She was back to clean out her office, get the pictures off the wall. Her termination agreement had been signed on Feb. 25.
What it all means for taxpayers is another hefty payout for a highly compensated official, a practice that's been standard operating procedure at the city-owned Board of Water & Light. In 2002, it paid General Manager Joe Pandy $730,000 to settle his departure. His replacement, Sandy Novak, got $375,000 in 2006 when the utility tired of his services. And, of course, there is the $650,000 settlement for J. Peter Lark, after the board bungled a failed bid to terminate him “with cause.”
I'll do the math. That's $1.75 million for the city to escape from bad hires.
Considering the money wasted by the BWL, the $160,663 payout covering salary and assorted benefits offered by Bernero is by city standards chump change.
McIntyre was given severance pay last week as she exited City Hall, Bernero said on Sunday. All that's left for the Council is to approve a new city attorney. And since that job serves both the mayor and the Council, withholding approval to protest McIntyre's golden parachute isn't really an option.
As often happens in City Hall, McIntyre's departure is fodder for political posturing. Council President Judi Brown Clarke said she learned of McIntyre's departure the way most in the city did — through the media. As of Sunday, she said, she still had not spoken directly with Bernero. In consultation with other Council members, she has delayed until March 21 considering the appointment of Deputy City Attorney F. Joseph Abood, Bernero's choice for a McIntyre replacement, as the interim city attorney. She questioned why the Mayor's Office didn't inform Council members of its intentions.
A week ago Monday, McIntyre attended a meeting with Council members. Did any of them ask her about her mysterious leave? No.
Did any of them request an executive session to deal with what might be sensitive personal matters? No.
Have any of them talked with McIntyre away from formal sessions? Some tried.
It was difficult, said Brown Clarke, because McIntyre's absence from City Hall was covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides significant privacy to the individual. Brown Clarke said she made some overtures toward McIntyre but received no responses.
Last week, when McIntyre was again working in City Hall, Brown Clarke said she and McIntyre had scheduled a meeting on Tuesday. But it didn't happen. She said she continued to reach out to McIntyre but without success.
Council Vice President Jessica Yorko too wanted to speak with McIntyre and based on Monday's sham appearance felt there would be time in coming weeks.
Bernero has not offered any explanation for McIntyre's departure. But it is well established that the relationship between at least some department heads in the Bernero Administration and its attorney have been troubled for a while.
The City Attorney’s Office was viewed as a choke point for actions as basic as hiring new employees. This was particularly apparent after Bernero made McIntyre the interim head of the city's Human Resources department in September 2014. The promotion included a $40,800 raise, making her by far the city's highest paid employee. Bernero makes $128,000 a year.
The city has since hired a Human Resources director. Freed of this responsibility, the city wanted to return McIntyre's pay to the $110,000 a year city attorney level. Coincidence perhaps, but it was just after the city's new HR director, Mary Riley, started in January that McIntyre facing a $40,800 cut in pay — and less responsibility — put herself on extended leave.
There was another issue that suggested problems in the City Attorney's Office: $158,000 in unpaid legal bills to outside law firms. City Auditor Jim DeLine, who works for the Council, uncovered dozens of unpaid and overdue bills during a series of audits last year. McIntyre, according to a report in the Lansing State Journal, attributed the delay to a need for more documentation to complete the review process. Bernero at the time vigorously defended McIntyre.
McIntyre, contacted through her attorney, declined to respond to questions about her departure or the $160,663 settlement.
The usual, and often disingenuous, explanation for a substantial payout like the one proposed for McIntyre is the desire to avoid contentious and expensive litigation. The separation agreement signed by McIntyre and Bernero, prevents her from profiting from legal actions against the city. Call it insurance. It's not unreasonable to believe that McIntyre, out of work and angry, could harass the city with frivolous and costly lawsuits.