March 23 2016 12:41 AM

Bernero administration dodges Council’s city attorney questions

Want to know why former City Attorney Janene McIntyre left the city with a check for $160,663?

Forget about it.

That’s the message the administration of Mayor Virg Bernero delivered at a confusing, often befuddling — but mostly frustrating meeting of the City Council Committee of the Whole Monday night.

Despite repeated questions about how McIntyre obtained the payout despite a provision in her contract limiting severance payments to not more than four months’ salary, Randy Hannan, Bernero’s chief of staff, ducked inquiries like a kid on a dodge ball court.

“We’re not able to discuss or disclose the details of confidential personnel matters,” Hannan coolly told the Council Monday night. “You’re free to ask, but our answers will be framed in what we can ethically or legally answer.”

The payout deal Bernero signed with Mc- Intyre included a provision penalizing either party if it “disparages” the other. The city also is citing “confidential,” though unstated, personnel issues as reasons to cloak the details of the city attorney’s departure and generous settlement.

The administration, prodded by Council members, has acknowledged that it cannot locate key documents related to McIntyre’s employment. Also, after claiming last month that the city attorney works for the Council, the administration now says it doesn’t. And still unanswered are questions about the full year of health coverage provided to McIntyre and other benefits.

McIntyre had been on Family Medical Leave — a form of unpaid leave from the city — since sometime in January. Council members, however, were not informed of that leave and it was not publicly acknowledged she was on leave until mid-February. During that time, the city hired the Lansing law firm of Dykema Gossett to handle negotiations with McIntyre for her to leave the city. The costs for this work is nearly $10,000 on top of the settlement agreement.

A separation agreement signed by Bernero and McIntyre on Feb. 25 resulted in the city issuing McIntyre two checks on March 4 as she walked out the door for the last time. One check, for $127,567, covered her salary through the end of the year. The city also paid McIntye $33,096 for accrued vacation, sick and personal leave. The city is also picking up the tab for McIntyre’s health insurance until Dec. 31 — at an undisclosed cost.

But those payments seem in conflict with provisions in her contract that limit severance payments to no more than four months.

“This was a settlement designed specifically within the four corners of that agreement,” Hannan told an exasperated and frustrated Council.

The payments also appeared to compensate McIntyre for accrued vacation time that would be equivalent to that time being earned for her entire tenure.

“The math may not be what you think it is,” Hannan told Council members before launching into a “hypothetical” scenario wherein a department head would take on the role of leading a second department and earn accrued vacation and other leaves equivalent to that.

But that doesn’t comport with a 2015 contract extension for McIntyre — maybe.

Hannan and Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope testified that the executed contract with McIntyre from 2015 had been lost and was not on file in the City Clerk’s Office as it should be. However, they were able to provide The Council with a draft of that agreement that Hannan assured Council members was “substantially” the same as the executed agreement.

That document shows McIntyre was to receive $40,000 for performance as the interim human resources director, as well as $147,805 a year for her performance as the city attorney. The draft contract has no language related to accrual of vacation and other leave time. That is dictated by the Executive Management Agreement, which is required by law and approved by the Council each year. It provides for 120 vacation hours each year.

That contract extension was drafted to expire on June 30, 2015, six months into the calendar year. It is unclear if a second extension was issued, or if the date of expiration was changed in the signed — and lost — contract.

Councilmember-at-Large Carol Wood said officials got “double talk from hell” but no answers from Bernero.

“I walked out with more questions than I had before the meeting,” she said.

Over the next few weeks, members of the Council will meet individually with Deputy City Attorney Joseph Abood — whom Bernero wants to appoint interim city attorney — to review a confidential legal opinion from Dykema Gossett attorneys related to the separation agreement. Based on those reviews, Council will reconvene to discuss whether it it needs to hire outside legal counsel to further address the situation and find answers.