Murfreesboro City Council Prepares a Golden Parachute for Outgoing Manager Lyons

Entering a new year, the Murfreesboro City Council is searching for a new city manager while paying its old one to do nothing. It’s good work if you can get it.

Rob Lyons resigned from the post Dec. 15, purportedly to pursue other job opportunities. But while he’s looking for new employment he won’t have to worry about paying his bills because he’ll get enough money from the city to equal a full year’s salary, more than $173,100.

Consistent with Lyons’ contract, city officials say, he got six months of salary totaling $86,906 and $8,903 for city-paid medical and dental coverage. In addition, he’s netting $67,276 for 100 unused vacation days, a pretty sweet perk for people who leave city employment.

Most private businesses don’t allow people to build up vacation and personal time, and if he had 100 days built up, he either worked too much over the last 20 years or the city’s vacation policy is too fat.

Of course, most businesses don’t give severance packages to people who resign, either. But who’s counting?

Shortly before the council approved the deal for Lyons, Assistant City Attorney Adam Tucker told city leaders the former city manager had no objections. And why would he? Tucker also said the buyout was “consistent” with the steps spelled out in Lyons’ contract.

Lyons’ contract, however, clearly states if the city terminates the employee without cause, the city shall be obligated to pay him the six-month severance plus other benefits. Lyons wasn’t terminated but submitted a letter of resignation.

The contract further states, “In the event the employee voluntarily resigns his position with the city for other than good reason, the employee shall provide a minimum of 60 days written notice unless the parties agree otherwise. Employee shall not use accrued vacation leave during such notice period unless the parties agree otherwise.”

Lyons’ personnel information shows none of “otherwise” agreements, and good reason includes only a decrease in pay, change in job title or responsibilities and “Any substantial breach of this agreement by the city.”

So unless the city thought it breached the contract, somewhere it needs to turn up these agreements for Lyons to leave with a nice gift.

For those who’ve never been through a buyout, the experience can be unsettling, to say the least. Having a job, no matter how crappy, is usually better than being unemployed. But Lyons, despite any uncertainty, should be able to pay his electric bill while he’s pursuing other opportunities. And, who knows, he might have landed a job somewhere else already.

photo courtesy WGNS

After all, he’s not leaving office under any official cloud. Part of his severance says he’s not aware of any illegal activity within city government, and Mayor Shane McFarland says Lyons isn’t being investigated for unethical behavior or involved in authorizing any illegal or unethical behavior, even though numerous rumors are circulating.

Apparently, it boils down to a loss of confidence by the City Council. The city’s elected leaders simply couldn’t trust Lyons to get the job done the way they wanted, so they said goodbye.

Lyons’ career as city manager here began to crumble some time back, but started coming to a close in early July when now-former Human Resources Director Glen Godwin resigned in the midst of a city pay and benefits study. Things worsened for Lyons when now-former Police Chief Karl Durr resigned in mid-October, just as local authorities were preparing for a white supremacist rally planned for the Public Square.

Durr’s exit had something to do with the resignation of MPD Public Information Officer Kyle Evans, who left the force to practice law, but might have been promised a position working part-time in the city legal department and at MPD. Durr also might have been spending too much time doing things other than guiding the police department.

Anyway, the city manager is responsible for hiring the HR director and the police chief. And when those two go awry, it doesn’t bode well for the guy at the top.

The question is: Why did the City Council give Lyons a decent performance evaluation in September accompanied by a 3 percent raise when they were losing confidence in him? The answer: They just couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

Some might call that having a short supply of guts. Others would say they were being prudent.

At that point, Durr hadn’t resigned, so they didn’t have quite enough ammunition. They were probably also just beginning to find out the Murfreesboro Police building project on Highland Avenue was going to cost $2 million more than expected. Some council members say it’s a lot more over the projected amount than that, maybe more than $10 million.

No matter what the final cost, taxpayers are on the hook in fiscal year 2018. So as the search starts for a new city manager, the first question the City Council needs to ask is: Can you stop spending so much damn money? Murfreesboro residents are not Daddy Warbucks.

And they need to look in the mirror, too, because people who quit don’t deserve a golden parachute. This was a buyout, not a resignation, unless the city can produce documentation showing otherwise.


Police Building Costs Escalate

The city of Murfreesboro has provided three sets of costs for the Murfreesboro Police building under construction/renovation on North Highland Avenue since mid-November, when I made an open records request for the figures.

The first response showed costs at about $53 million, the second one at $54.8 and the third one at $55.7. Maybe they were so busy firing Rob Lyons they didn’t have time to put together a cohesive answer.

Even worse is that those total expenses for the building kept coming with discrepancies in projected costs from the outset and changes in numbers from bond funds used to pay for them.

Boiling it down: City Council members didn’t know how much it was costing. And that’s a big problem.

The first set of figures provided by the city showed the consultant in charge of the renovation had projected the total costs at $46.6 million, including land acquisition, architectural and engineering fees, furniture, etc. The problem is the construction contract alone with Bell & Associates is for $46.1 million, which meant about a $7 million overrun.

Questioned about that, city officials said, well, maybe that first projection didn’t include the land purchase and those other expenses. OK, fine.

But one local news report from 2015 showed the consultant, Kennon Calhoun Workshop, estimating the construction project at $36 million, which would have left about $10 million to hit that $46.6 million projection.

Some City Council members also recall hearing cost estimates in the $40 million range and some even lower.

Besides that, information the city has put out on bond funding for the project contains conflicting numbers. In late summer, the City Council was considering borrowing $2.7 million in 2018, as part of a much bigger bond total, to wrap up the police building. The latest figures, though, show the city needs to borrow $6.14 million to finish the job.

Is anybody getting confused yet?

Finally, Mayor Shane McFarland told someone at City Hall to show him the money. And those figures detail the project costing a total of $55.7 million, about $1.7 million more than the $54 million the city had in bond funds to finish her up.

McFarland says the city will have to pay cash and then go to the bond market for a wrap. He also says the city is going to have to do a much better job at setting a budget and sticking with it on these big projects, while acknowledging renovation of the former Murfreesboro Medical Clinic came with unexpected costs.

Ten years from now, nobody will care or remember.

But $2 million is a pretty big miss. And based on some of these other projections, someone missed by about $10 million.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see some more heads roll over this one.


MPD Knows How to Respond

My wife and I were sitting there minding our own business, finishing a meal recently at the La Siesta on Greenland Drive when we saw, not one, not two, not three, but 12 police cars screaming down Greenland toward the local college.

We paid the tab and, being the inquiring types, we tooled on down Greenland toward the scene, parking at the store just off Greenland near Gunnerson Avenue. It looked like something out of a Lethal Weapon movie, with about 20 police cars, blue lights on and multiple officers lined up handling the scene.

Word had it there was some kind of shooting. Then, suddenly, as if someone snapped their fingers, officers started walking back to their cars.

Was it a false alarm? Partly.

According to the police report, someone at a Gunnerson Avenue apartment called in a domestic disturbance report earlier. The boyfriend involved in the argument left the apartment, and when a police officer arrived and knocked on the door, someone inside thought it was the boyfriend coming back.

A man reportedly fired a weapon, which apparently made the police officer think he was shooting at him. And out came the cavalry.

Police questioned the man about firing the weapon, but there was no word early on about whether he would be charged. Clearly it wasn’t the brightest thing to do, considering children and three other adults were in the house. But, heck, when you’re dealing with mad boyfriends you’re better safe than sorry, maybe? Well, maybe you should make sure it’s not the police first.

Luckily, nobody was hurt, and Murfreesboro Police got to run their sirens and drive like bats out of hell, so just about everybody went away happy.

And speaking of good endings, how about a good start to 2018. Happy New Year!


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Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com

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