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North Las Vegas mayor had severance deal with former city manager

A handwritten agreement emerged Thursday afternoon showing North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee had struck a preliminary severance deal with former city manager Qiong Liu.

The pact, signed the day Liu fired a close ally of the mayor, allowed for her to depart “without cause” on Feb. 2, along with a year’s worth of salary, medical and pension benefits and all of the existing terms in her employment contract.

It appears the note was scribbled on lined paper, with a few items scratched out. It was signed Jan. 9 by Liu, Lee and Human Resources Director Cass Palmer.

The revelation comes after a heated disagreement during the Feb. 7 City Council meeting, where Lee denied Liu’s assertion that they had reached a severance agreement. At the meeting, Lee only acknowledged talking to Liu and said that any severance package must be approved by all five members of the City Council.

“We were in here talking about items she was most interested in, but it was not a contract,” Lee said Thursday. “I told her those were things I could support, but that was before we found out about the bad actions she committed. These items were for discussion, but there was no contract.”

A separate agreement signed Jan. 10 by Liu, Palmer and City Clerk Catherine Raynor allowed for a $613,000 severance package that included a $25,000 retroactive wage increase.

Documents obtained Thursday by the Review-Journal show that city officials and Liu corresponded through Jan. 23 in an attempt to negotiate a final agreement.

“Liu herself changed the initial proposal several times after the fact in an attempt to secure a richer payout,” city spokeswoman Delen Goldberg said. “Ultimately, the City Council voted against her demands.”

Last week the City Council rejected the proposed $613,000 severance package and fired Liu “for cause” amid allegations that she attempted to give herself a $30,000 raise retroactive to November 2015.

Liu denied the accusations and has requested a public hearing to contest the City Council’s decision. City officials said at least one law enforcement agency is investigating the matter.

Liu has characterized the allegations as a “personal vendetta” so that the city can deny paying a severance package because of her disagreements with Ryann Juden, a close friend and colleague of the mayor.

Liu departed City Hall on Jan. 10, one day after she fired and rehired Juden, who was working at the time as an assistant city manager. Juden is now as interim city manager.

North Las Vegas officials have not determined whether to search for a permanent city manager or allow Juden to remain in the role.

Contact Art Marroquin at amarroquin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @AMarroquin_LV on Twitter.

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