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Las Vegas city manager interprets contract change as dismissal

Last July, Las Vegas City Manager Scott Adams received a vote of confidence from the City Council: “a fantastic performance review and a big bonus” as he put it.

But on Wednesday, the council voted 4-1 to cancel the two-year auto-renewal clause in his current contract that would have been triggered this weekend, saying they preferred to address a possible extension after a forthcoming performance review. A new two-year term of his agreement would have begun July 6.

What elected officials said was simply rectifying a discomfort with automatically extending an employment agreement without a review Adams viewed very differently: “I can’t take that any other way than you’re firing me.”

During contentious talks that lasted more than an hour, the future of the city’s top administrator was placed firmly into question as officials wrestled with the public optics and potential consequences of serving Adams a 90-day notice to say his contract would end in early July.

“Who in the hell is going to pay attention to him if he looks like he’s on thin ice?” said Councilman Bob Coffin, who suggested the decision exposed the city to legal challenge and unsuccessfully moved to strike it.

The plan was pushed forward by Councilwoman Michele Fiore, who emphasized that she sought to fix the flawed automatic-renewal clause and perhaps provide incoming council members with a say-so on a city manager.

“I’m just asking for fairness,” Fiore said.

Adams’ tenure began in July 2017, and neither Fiore nor Councilman Cedric Crear had a voice in his hire. Three new council members will join the dais after June, she noted. But the decision to disable the auto-renewal in Adams’ contract also called for a performance review May 1, before any of the new members would be able to weigh in.

None of the council members who voted not to automatically renew Adams’ contract expressed any desire to terminate him: “Quite the opposite,” Crear said.

Still, Adams said a new deal should have been negotiated and agreed upon before the clock on his contract’s expiration began. He contended the council’s efforts were tantamount to engaging in “a unilateral negotiation of my contract” and noted how he wasn’t obliged to sign anything they put in front of him.

“You could offer me a subsequent contract that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on that I’ll never sign,” he told the council.

‘Entirely embarrassing’

Coffin expressed concerns that Fiore is maneuvering to oust Adams and pointed to a response to Adams she posted Sunday on Facebook as evidence of “a lot of inflammatory things” that have been circulated toward the city manager in the public sphere.

“Maybe we want to make a change, but why cost ourselves millions of dollars in the process by abuse that’s been heaped on this person?” he said.

Adams had posted to Facebook that Fiore’s emergency request to reconsider his contract, an addendum to Wednesday’s agenda, “looks like an interesting council meeting this week.”

“No emergency Mr. Adams, just timely,” Fiore responded on her own page. “Your post, Mr. Adams lacks integrity, and you wonder why I’ve requested a review, your Facebook post speaks very loudly of your character.”

Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who departed the meeting before Wednesday’s vote, gave her “full support” to Adams and worried aloud that any change would disrupt the progress of the city and staff amassed under him.

“I find this entirely embarrassing,” she said.

Adams, who is paid $249,335 yearly, offered a full-throated defense of his short tenure thus far, saying he has worked on citywide and district-specific matters to boost the Medical District, develop Ward 5, build a library, tackle homelessness, get a new municipal court rolling and improve Huntridge Circle Park, among other accomplishments.

“We have a lot of momentum in this city. We’re in an unprecedented building boom downtown,” said Adams, who began 15 years ago as the city’s redevelopment agency director. “I believe I’ve been the person holding the baton to get us to that point. I don’t believe, if I were on your side of the dais here, this is the time to change horses on a city manager.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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