New severance packages for West Richland city staff

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 6, 2013 

Four West Richland city staff members, concerned about their job security in light of a mayoral election, have new severance packages after Tuesday's city council meeting.

The city's police chief and directors for public works, finance and community and economic development may now receive up to five months salary and a $100,000 life insurance policy if they are removed without cause, Mayor Donna Noski told the Herald.

Council members approved the new benefits after a discussion in a workshop ahead of the regular meeting, Noski said. Councilman Richard Bloom was the sole dissenting vote.

Noski said staff members were concerned they would lose their jobs if mayoral candidate Merle Johnson wins the election, claiming he said he planned to terminate at least one staffer.

Johnson was trailing opponent Brent Gerry by 68 votes Wednesday after the latest tallies from the Benton County Auditor's Office.

Gerry collected 1,334 votes, or 51 percent, to Johnson's 1,266 votes, or 49 percent.

Johnson denied making any such statement when contacted by the Herald and refused further comment.

Before Tuesday, only the city's police chief had a severance package built into his contract.

Bloom wrote in an email to the Herald that Johnson "is running on a platform of reducing government costs and if elected it is anticipated that some staff changes will occur." He said the severance packages "will unnecessarily increase costs for the citizens of West Richland (in) any reorganization."

Noski fired former city administrator Dave Weiser and requested the resignation of former police chief Layne Erdman in 2010 on her first day as mayor, Bloom said. Neither man received a severance package.

City staff approached Noski in early September about receiving contracts with a severance package built in because of comments from Johnson saying he planned to fire city staff, the outgoing mayor said. The matter was then brought to the council for consideration.

"We've got top-notch directors," Noski said. "I think (the packages) are fair and reasonable and demonstrate that council appreciates the staff it has."

Also Tuesday:

-- Several residents attending a public hearing regarding production, processing and sale of marijuana in the city spoke against it. One person spoke in favor because the state has established strict conditions for such businesses to operate.

The city has a six-month moratorium on recreational marijuana, approved by the council in early October. Noski said the hearing is the first of several the city will have on establishing zoning codes for any facility associated with the drug.

-- Council members approved the city's application to have the Tri-City Raceway brought within West Richland's urban growth boundary.

Noski said the city and the raceway's owner, the Port of Kennewick, have been working closely on plans for the property.

Both entities want a cutting-edge winery effluent treatment plant built to make the former Tri-City Raceway -- near the proposed Red Mountain interchange on Interstate 82 -- even more attractive for wineries.

"(The port) is 100 percent behind the application," Noski said.

The application will now go to county officials to go through a hearings process.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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