City manager’s contract would violate city law
Although Beaumont City Council has named three finalists for the municipality’s open city manager position, a job offer is stuck behind the closed doors of the executive session. After even more hours of private deliberation on August 2, still nothing.
Community comments from a few citizens who claim to represent “the majority” strongly support Kenneth Williams, the former city manager of Buda, with reports that the majority of council is in favor of the same. However, as revealed in the contractual “agreement” Williams held at his last job, Beaumont’s elected leaders would violate their own charter, aka city laws, to compete with Williams’ last pay package.
Based on the advert soliciting candidates for the position of Beaumont town manager, the job looks quite attractive: an annual salary of about $250,000, health benefits, paid vacation, car allowance, a pension contribution, an administrative allowance and technological devices paid for by the city. What is not given on the position: severance pay, paid leave to arbitrate up to 15 hours per week, social benefits…
Disclaimers published by the City of Beaumont specifically prohibit contracts that would require the city to keep employees it does not want on the payroll: “The information contained in the city’s policy does not confer contract or right, express or implied, for an employee to remain employed by the City, nor does it guarantee fixed terms of employment. The City of Beaumont is an employer at will. employer at will is not required to have cause for dismissal.
“No employee or official has the authority to make commitments that nullify the employment relationship at will.”
According to Beaumont’s Home Rule charter, employment policy affects all city employees, and the municipality is prevented from offering employment to a city manager who is not at will, which also excludes contracts that provide “golden parachutes” or any other provision that would prevent the city – or the employee – from terminating the employer/employee relationship at any time without any legal repercussions.
“The City Manager will not be appointed for a fixed term but may be removed at the will and pleasure of the City Council by a majority vote of the full Council,” details the Beaumont charter. “The action of the City Council to suspend or remove the City Manager shall be final, it being the intention of this Charter to vest all authority and fix all responsibility for such suspension or removal upon the City Council.”
The Beaumont Charter was established on December 6, 1947, but has undergone many revisions over the years. Revisions and changes to the city charter are, however, subject to public vote, with the most recent taking place on May 1, 2021.
Behind the closed doors of Beaumont’s council chambers, talks about hiring a new city manager have been going on week after week, with no resolution. Williams, who is not officially named the sole runner-up but is considered the heir apparent, was also said to have been involved in the private board meetings, presumably settling the terms of employment.
Williams, who served as Buda city manager from 2008 to 2022, applied for the job after contacting staff at Baker Tilly, a Beaumont-contracted search firm that secured a total of 55 applicants. , selected from a list of 16 for presentation at the Beaumont. Municipal Council. After reviewing Baker Tilly’s shortlist, elected leaders narrowed the list down to three: Williams, current acting Beaumont Town Manager Chris Boone, and Lionel Lyons.
Williams lists himself as “semi-retired” in the days leading up to his candidacy for the Beaumont job. In December 2021, Williams signed a five-year deal with the city of Buda to continue as city manager, but announced his resignation almost immediately afterwards. In the signed agreement, the recitals detail Williams “expressed a desire to accept this new contract of employment as City Manager of Buda”, backdating its terms to the previous October 1. “It is the desire of the City Council to continue to: retain the services of the employee; induce him to remain in that employment; make possible the full productivity of labor by assuring the morale and peace of mind of the employees by with respect to future job security and compensation; and provide a fair means of terminating the employee’s employment relationship at the appropriate time in the event that the employee is unable to fully perform of his duties or when the employer may have reason to terminate his employment.
In addition to an annual salary of $231,161.06, the Buda City Manager package included benefits such as a pension contribution of $22,013.59 per year, an annual professional development allowance of $8,000, a $12,000 car allowance, insurance for himself and his wife, and 15 paid hours of each work week to do with as he pleases: “involved in teaching, counseling, arbitration, or other unrelated activities to the employer without the prior approval of the employer.”
Less than a month after signing to serve Buda for another five years, Williams announced his resignation effective March 31. In a farewell message posted to YouTube on March 28, Williams offered a professional profile and mentioned “doing things above the board” as a legacy of her career tenure.
“I can’t think of anything I would have done differently,” Williams explained. “Did I do everything right? No, but we put a lot of effort into what we did.
On June 18, Williams was announced as one of three finalists for the Beaumont town manager position. Compared to Buda, Beaumont is a behemoth. Buda, a city just 15 miles from Austin, has a 2020 population of 15,108 – its height, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, up from 7,295 in 2010. Buda has a total area of 5.4 square miles, of which 0.01 square miles is water.
With a population of 115,282 at the 2020 census, Beaumont is the largest incorporated municipality by population near the Louisiana border. Beaumont has an area of 85.19 square miles, of which 2.73 square miles is water.
In Buda, Williams was responsible for a budget of $87.7 million. Beaumont City Council approved the 2022 budget of $295.6 million and has 1,317 full-time employees.
In Buda, the city manager is appointed for an indefinite term and can be removed at the discretion of the city council by an affirmative vote of five members of the city council. Typically, the employment of the city manager is governed by a contract for services, which defines his remuneration and other conditions of employment, which is approved by the city council.
If Beaumont officials choose to offer a deal to a new city manager outside of what the Charter mandates, the New York Supreme Court, Second Department, Appeals Division has already issued an opinion on the legality in an appeal entitled Hansell v. City of Long Beach. The case stems from a city manager contract that included termination clauses, even though the city charter defines the city as an at-will employer. The plaintiff plaintiff was a private citizen who challenged the legality of the council’s agreement with the new recruit.
“The proceeding should be converted to an action for declaratory judgment and judgment in favor of the plaintiff to the extent that the contractual provision is declared unlawful and void,” wrote Justice Hansell v. City of Long Beach. “Of course, city charter standards must be met.”
“It is fundamental that municipalities be created by statute and possess only such authority as is granted to them, together with such powers as are reasonably related to the authority conferred,” the Supreme Court said in appeal to the justice referenced in Whittaker. against Village of Franklinville.