Council makes emails between mayor, attorneys public

Former director received severance despite voluntary resignation
By Brandon Gustafson | Oct 24, 2018

Just before the clock struck midnight at the Monday, Oct. 15, Mukilteo City Council meeting, council President Steve Schmalz made a motion to make public a series of emails between Mayor Jennifer Gregerson and attorneys regarding the planned departure of former Management Services Director Steve Phillips.

Schmalz said the emails fell under the category of attorney-client privilege, but he felt it was important to get more information out to the public. The emails had been sent to all councilmembers prior to the Oct. 15 meeting.

Schmalz’s motion passed unanimously, 7-0.

Phillips was one of four former city of Mukilteo employees who received a severance payment that didn’t follow the city’s policy. That information was discovered by Councilmember Scott Whelpley, who made a public records request and discovered the city’s policy wasn’t being followed.

There has since been a new policy put in place that severance agreements along with other contracts must be brought to the council for approval.

In paperwork obtained by the Mukilteo Beacon, Phillips announced his resignation from his position with the city on Feb. 4, 2017, in a letter to Gregerson, stating his last day would be Feb. 14, 2017.

According to the employee agreement Phillips signed on Oct. 7, 2014, when he started, if he was terminated without cause, he was entitled to four months severance pay. However, if he voluntarily resigned, like he did in February 2017, he was not entitled to severance pay.

In his separation agreement, Phillips received $11,470 in severance, equal to one month’s pay.

In the emails Schmalz made public, there is correspondence between the city’s former attorney, the city’s former Human Resources dDirector, Gregerson, and a lawyer from Ogden Murphy Wallace regarding Phillips. There are a total of six emails that are dated either Feb. 8 or Feb. 9.

The email thread starts with the city’s former HR director and the city’s former attorney discussing cashouts for administrative leave and vacation leave.

In one email dated Feb. 9, Gregerson said Phillips reminded her of a conversation the two had in April of 2016 where he discussed possibly leaving the city for another job.

In the same email, she said that she, in the April conversation, “verbally committed to allowing him to work from home every Friday, to reconsider his job title in 2018 and (as he reminded me), allow the same vacation rollover that directors have in the handbook – two years’ worth.”

She also said Phillips suggested he could sign a non-disclosure form and a release of claims, and that he said he’d get an attorney if necessary.

“He was very clear and aggressive about that,” Gregerson said.

The attorney from Ogden Murphy Wallace said in a Feb. 9, 2017, email that if the city wanted to enter into a severance agreement that obtained a release of all claims in exchange for payment that would exceed what Phillips would have received as severance, they could help draft something that “accomplishes that purpose.”

The attorney also said that the city’s attorney would be able to tell Gregerson whether the agreement would need council approval, “in light of the expenditure of funds that would be a part of it and in light of the fact that it would be a variation from the Employment Agreement that (I assume) they approved when he was hired.”

In past discussions regarding separation agreements with former employees, Whelpley said none of these agreements went before the council despite them violating the city’s severance policy that was already in place.

Scheduled discussion about councilmembers retaining outside legal counsel to review allegations of violations of city policy and RCWs by Gregerson was postponed  due to the length of the Oct. 15 meeting. Instead, it will occur at the Oct. 29 Special Meeting.

 

 

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