A shorter leash

Voters asked to amend Charter to cap contracts

After Board of Water & Light General Manager Peter Lark was fired last winter, residents and leaders of Lansing were appalled by the contract payout provisions approved by the citizen board. Lark’s five-year contract had a payout provision requiring he be paid for the remainder of his contract if he was dismissed without cause.

To quell the outrage, the City Council and Mayor Virg Bernero placed a ballot initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot that would limit the length of contracts with at-will employees to one year at a time and also prevent payouts.

The initiative has drawn the approval of citizen watchdog Steve Harry.

“I support it, mainly because it also bans separation payments,” he said. “On the other hand, what's the point of even a one year contract if the employer can terminate at will without paying you for the remainder of the contract period?”

But like those who oppose the amendment, he does have concerns the limits could impact the city’s ability to draw top talent to public service positions.

“I do think it limits the city's ability to attract top rate talent, but what is considered top rate doesn't always turn out so great,” he said. “Just because they have commanded high salaries in the past doesn't mean they are worth it. After all, they are ‘in the market.’”

Candidates for the Lansing City Council have differing opinions on the proposal.

Adam Hussain, the challenger in the Third Ward, said he will vote no but supports having placed the issue on the ballot “for the voters to decide.”

The four candidates for the two At-Large Council seats were asked about the ballot proposal on the Sept. 18 edition of “City Pulse Newsmakers” television show.

Carol Wood, the incumbent in the At- Large race, said she approved the measure for the ballot, even thjough she plans to vote against it. She said Council has already made changes to city ordinances to require one-year contracts and prevent “golden parachutes,” which she said the Council addressed at the mayor’s request.

Spitzley said she is “not necessarily opposed” to the measure, though she said she was unsure it would address contracts with general managers at the Board of Water & Light.

Dievendorf said she supports a performance review after one year. “I don’t think a hard and fast limit is the best idea.”

Leeman did not answer the question.

Instead raising concerns about the mayor’s “personal agenda” being played out.

City of Lansing Charter Amendment Limitation on Employment Contracts It is proposed that the Lansing City Charter be amended to add a new section 6.401 that requires all employment contracts for at-will employees, including Mayoral appointees, City department directors, and all agencies, boards and commissions of the City, be limited to a maximum one year term. No such employment contract shall provide separation payments in excess of vested or accrued benefits, or payments required by law. A position may be exempted from one or more of these limitations. These limitations do not apply to contracts established prior to January 1, 2016.


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