Former Henderson city manager to receive almost $1.3 million in damages

Roughly two years after the Henderson City Council voted to fire Mary Kay Peck, the council's current members signed off Tuesday on almost $1.3 million in damages for the former city manager.

First, though, City Councilwoman Debra March accused attorneys for the city of bungling the dispute to the tune of about $900,000.

March, who joined the council after Peck was fired, said she lobbied months ago to try to settle the case for $600,000. Apparently, she said, that offer was never relayed to Peck by the outside attorney hired to handle the dispute. Instead, the attorney decided to fight on, costing Henderson another $200,000 in legal fees and resulting in a much larger damages.

The $1,287,099 settlement approved Tuesday represents the remaining wages and benefits Peck would have received under her contract and the attorney fees she racked up fighting her dismissal. The amount was negotiated after an arbitrator upheld Peck's breach-of-contract claim in December.

Peck spent 18 months as Henderson's first female city manager before being dismissed on April 14, 2009.

In his interim order, arbitrator Gerald McKay ruled that city officials failed to prove they had sufficient cause to fire Peck from the $225,000-a-year job.

"The most valuable thing she gets out of this is vindication," Peck's attorney Norman Kirshman said. "She was called some pretty bad names."

City Council members accused Peck of withholding vital information from them and creating a "culture of fear."

Kirshman said his client received no severance package. She walked away with $160,000 in accrued sick leave, health benefits and pension payments.

Peck sued the City Council in federal court a month after she was fired, but the lawsuit was dismissed. She also filed a grievance with the city over her termination, triggering the arbitration.

Peck was seeking more than $2 million in damages. Kirshman said his client never underwent a formal performance review during her time as manager or received anything in writing that found fault with her job. She was fired at a public meeting without being given the chance to defend herself, he said.

Kirshman said it is a shame that the people responsible for the damages -- namely the mayor and council in 2009 -- won't be the ones footing the bill.

"Ultimately on the hook is going to be the taxpayers," he said.