Former Colorado Springs City Manager Penelope Culbreth-Graft, who surprised City Council members when she announced her resignation March 19, has surprised them again by asking for a $105,000 payout.
Culbreth-Graft sent a letter to City Attorney Pat Kelly last week stating that she wants the city to pay her six months severance, Mayor Lionel Rivera said Thursday.
“I don’t know what to make of the letter and don’t know really why she feels the city owes her,” Rivera said.
During the April 13 City Council meeting, council members approved a resolution appointing Fire Chief Steve Cox as interim city manager. Rivera announced that Cox’s appointment would be effective April 16, the date Culbreth-Graft said her resignation was effective.
“I just want to point out in the resolution it’s effective April 16, 2010, and runs until April 19, 2011,” Rivera said during the meeting.
(To see the video of the council meeting, click here and fast forward to about six minutes, 30 seconds into the meeting.)
Rivera then swore in Cox as interim city manager. Immediately after the ceremony, Culbreth-Graft told the council that she was stepping down as city manager.
“I would like to thank you for the privilege of serving the city of Colorado Springs. I do consider this constructive termination of my contract and will leave you in the very capable hands of Steve Cox,” she said before picking up her purse and walking out of the meeting.
Culbreth-Graft sent her letter to the city attorney either that afternoon or the next day, the mayor said.
She could not be reached for comment and has declined requests for interviews about her departure from the city.
Councilman Tom Gallagher said Thursday that Culbreth-Graft considers Cox’s swearing-in a violation of her contract.
“She views our action as termination without cause, and she’s requesting her golden parachute,” Gallagher said, referring to the payment an executive receives from an employer after his or her employment has been terminated.
Culbreth-Graft’s contract with the city states that if she is terminated without cause, the city “shall pay” six months of salary and benefits. She was paid $210,000 annually; six months’ compensation would be $105,000.
“We haven’t done anything wrong,” Rivera said, noting that it’s been the council’s practice to swear in appointees before they start the job. “We’ve fulfilled our contract with her, paid her through the end of her term when she said she was going to resign.”
Culbreth-Graft became city manager in January 2008, replacing interim City Manager Mike Anderson, then oversaw $90 million in budget cuts and the elimination of almost 550 city jobs. The cuts, which have received national media attention, have included pulling trash cans from city parks, turning off thousands of streetlights, selling two police helicopters, and proposals to shut down community centers and pools.
Councilman Scott Hente said he hasn’t seen the letter from Culbreth-Graft’s attorney but heard of its existence from a reporter.
“If the letter says that there’s a payment required under the contract, I would view that as preposterous,” he said.
Hente said he considered himself one of Culbreth-Graft’s biggest fans — “if not her biggest fan” — among council members.
“If it’s true, it’s disappointing that she has to leave and leave with this kind of a bad taste in everybody’s mouth,” he said.