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UPDATE: Records show $83,900 given in utilities signing bonuses

By: DANIEL CHACÓN
October 13, 2010
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In November 2009, Kelli Carr pocketed a $6,000 signing bonus from Colorado Springs Utilities when she accepted a job as a senior project engineer paying $87,298 a year.

By May, Carr was gone.

And so was the signing bonus.

Carr is among 17 high-salary employees at Utilities who have received $83,900 in signing bonuses since 2005, according to documents obtained under an open-records request.

(Due to inaccurate information provided by Colorado Springs Utilities, this story has been updated to state that Kelli Carr left employment in May 2010.)

The signing bonuses range from $1,375 to $10,000.

“They’re rare and are often given in situations when a job has been hard to fill, or has been open for a while, or the candidate … lives out of state and is an excellent fit for a critical position,” Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said in an e-mail.

But the hiring – and subsequent firing – of Carr triggered a policy change at Utilities.

Under the new policy, employees who get a signing bonus and then leave “under any circumstance” within two years must return the money, Berry said Wednesday.

(Should Colorado Springs Utilities be handing out signing bonuses? Vote in poll.)

Under the old policy, “there was a provision in there that basically said that if the employee voluntarily separates, then they would have to pay that back,” he said.

“In (Carr’s) case, all I can say is she didn’t voluntarily separate. Unfortunately, in the old policy, that was not covered, but the new, updated one covers that,” he said. “It was an issue in the old policy that we at the time, I guess, did not perceive. Now it’s covered.”

The situation involving Carr served as a warning for Utilities, Berry said.

“We needed to make sure that we covered all potential loopholes,” he said.

The last signing bonus Utilities handed out was in September.

Nicholas Peters, who, like Carr, was also hired as a senior project engineer, received a $5,000 signing bonus. His starting salary is $90,002 a year.

Utilities gave signing bonuses to employees whose positions were considered hard to fill “at the time of recruitment,” Berry said.

They include Bill Cherrier, the city-owned utility’s chief planning and finance officer.

Cherrier, who was hired in July 2005 with a starting salary of $91,187 a year, received a $5,000 signing bonus.

Neither the city government nor Memorial Health System have handed out signing bonuses since 2005, according to spokesmen for both organizations.

To see the complete list of employees who have received a signing bonus from Utilities, visit the City Desk blog by clicking here.

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