A costly mistake: Henderson has to fork out to ex-employee

The city of Henderson hired Mary Kay Peck as its zoning administrator in 1995. She did well, being named director of community development before being promoted to city manager in October 2007.

In that $225,000 a year post, she lasted 18 months.

In late March 2009, she was ordered to go on vacation. Two weeks later, City Council members voted to fire her for “intentional and continuing failure to perform the job.” Council members accused her of withholding vital information from them and creating a “culture of fear” at City Hall.

Ms. Peck filed a grievance with the city over her termination, a grievance that went to arbitration.

This week, arbitrator Gerald McKay found the city’s contract with Ms. Peck made it clear she could be fired “for any reason or for no reason.” But Mr. McKay also ruled that under her contract, if Ms. Peck was fired “without cause” as defined by the contract, she’s entitled to compensation.

Having signed such a contract with their employee, did the City Council take steps to establish “cause” for her termination? It doesn’t look that way.

Ms. Peck’s attorney, Norman Kirshman, says his client received no formal performance reviews during her time as manager, nor anything in writing that found fault with how she was doing her job.

In his interim order, Mr. McKay ruled city officials failed to prove they had sufficient cause to fire. He gave the city 30 days to negotiate damages — despite the fact Ms. Peck already walked away with about $160,000 in accrued sick leave, health benefits and pension payments.

Mr. Kirshman said the arbitrator offered his own estimate of $1.3 million to $1.4 million.

That Henderson taxpayers should have to pay out a million dollars for two years of services they didn’t receive is an abomination. But rather than blaming Ms. Peck or even the arbitrator, the trail leads right back to the City Council.

It sounds a lot like nobody in charge read the contract, either at the time it was offered or when the time came to figure out, “What’s it going to cost us to make a change, here?”

If City Council members don’t feel qualified to handle such matters themselves, maybe they need to review who’s giving them legal advice. A million here, a million there … pretty soon this could add up to real money.

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