Some city councilors are seeking more financial oversight over the city’s administration after the city entered into a $84,500 separation agreement with the city’s former human resources director without the consent of the city council.

Councilors questioned why the administration had not gotten the approval from city councilors for the agreement at a City Council Finance Committee meeting Monday night.

The city’s administration has to get the approval of city councilors to spend more than $3,000. However, the city administration contends it had approval to spend the money on the separation agreement, because that was the amount budgeted to be spent on that position, and city councilors voted on the budget.

City councilors did not directly address the separation agreement the city recently reached with former Human Resources Director Tina Crellin, after she took out a protection from harassment order against City Councilor Michael Foley. Instead, councilors discussed the council’s oversight of separation agreements in general.

Despite that, Crellin’s husband, Tim Crellin, told councilor’s they were overstepping their bounds in trying to get invovled in personnel issues.

Before he spoke, Committee Chairman Ed Symbol had instructed Crellin to take the “60,000-foot view” on the issue. Before the meeting, Symbol had told Crellin that he could not publicly discuss an investigator’s report recently completed by a law firm that Crellin believed exonerated Tina Crellin in the dispute with Foley.

At the outset of the meeting, Symbol admitted that some were questioning the timing of the meeting – coming a week before an election – but he said government does not stop for elections.

Councilor Drew Gattine said he had requested a number of issues be looked at, including quarterly financial reports, subcontracted vendors and lump-sum employee separation agreements. Gattine said he had raised some of his fiscal concerns as early as June 2006, but none had been place on subsequent committee meeting agendas.

Gattine and Councilor Brendan Rielly both raised several issues regarding lump-sum separation agreements without delving into any specific events. The committee was provided a list of the 20 separation agreements the city has entered into since 1994. Three of the agreements had no payout beyond what the employee was legally entitled to, such as leftover vacation or sick time.

Symbol said he hadn’t been aware of any of the separation agreements.

Members agreed that in order to provide fiscal accountability, they should know how the budget is being spent. Gattine argued that the city charter requires any discretionary expenditure over $3,000 to go to the council for approval.

City Solicitor Bill Dale responded, in part, that the charter also charges the mayor as the sole administrator responsible for the hiring and firing of employees, perhaps contradicting the $3,000 stipulation.

Dale pointed out that should a separation agreement of more than $3,000 go before the council for approval, the council would not be able to vote on the merits of the agreement because it would have no role in or knowledge of the personnel issues.

Councilor Suzanne Joyce was concerned the council would “be an appeal panel” for employees on the outs with their bosses if the separation agreements came to the council. City Administrator Jerre Bryant nodded that it was possible.

No conclusion was reached on what direction to take, but the council agreed with the primary point made by Rielly.

“Mr. Mayor, why didn’t we know about these?” he asked Bruce Chuluda about the separation agreements.

Chuluda said there was not “some planned, clandestine scheme here,” though he said he was amenable to making changes on how to notify the council of the agreements.

After the meeting, Rielly said the questions had been about making sure the council was accountable for the finances of the city.

Tina Crellin, who had tuned into the meeting via television, said she believed the questions were politically motivated and asked intentionally the week before the election.

Chuluda said he was not surprised by the contentious tone of the meeting. “It’s that time of year,” he said.

Chuluda said the council is trying to wrest some power from the mayor’s position by being involved in the personnel issues that have been the duty of the mayor since before his tenure.

“There needs to be a separation between the executive and the legislative branch,” he said.

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