Former Turlock City Manager Tim Kerr was fired on January 13, 2009 by a 3-2 council vote in a close session meeting. No official reported reason was ever given for Kerr’s firing. Kerr was put on paid administrative for 30 days before his last day. (Former City Council Fires City Manager Tim Kerr)
The next day, it was released that Mayor John Lazar would be the spokesperson for the Council on the matter and the only one speaking on the matter. The closed session vote to fire Tim Kerr was not revealed until a later date.
Councilman Ted Howze said “We all agreed that the Mayor would be the ONLY person authorized to speak on the issue.”
Mayor John Lazar commented on the decision as the Council’s spokesman saying “The City Council made significant management changes last night. We have scheduled a special meeting tomorrow (Thursday) to select an interim city manager. I can guarantee you as Mayor that the City Council will make sure we have the kind of leadership Turlock needs in these challenging times. The City Council must have one agenda and that’s Turlock’s agenda. I am committed to working toward this goal.” (Mayor Spokesperson for Council’s Decision to Fire City Manager)
On January 27, 2009 it was revealed that Council Members Ted Howze, Kurt Spycher and Amy Bublak voted to fire Tim Kerr as the Turlock City Manager. Mayor John Lazar and Council Member Mary Jackson disagreed.
Mayor John Lazar was the most vocal about the decision but only through statements reflecting the entire Council. He acknowledged the Council’s split vote and admitted that they agree to disagree.
Again, no specific reason as to why Tim Kerr was fired was reported. (Council’s 3-2 Vote to Fire City Manager Released, Revealed How Members Voted)
Kerr Files Lawsuit
On April 2, 2009, Tim Kerr filed a claim against the City of Turlock in the amount of $49,583.78.
Kerr’s claim states the City breached his employment agreement, specifically City Attorney Phaedra Norton’s refusal to authorize payment of his retirement contribution at the time his severance was paid.
Kerr’s severance package was worth around $180,000, including nine months’ pay, payout of unused sick leave, vacation, holidays and management leave.
Kerr’s claim states that he received all the benefit payments except his retirement benefit contribution.
“Because the City Attorney required that I accept a lump sum severance payment upon which retirement benefit contributions could not be paid, prior to my termination date of February 13, 2009, I filed an application with PERS to personally contribute the $37,337.19 which the City was contractually obligated to pay. Accordingly, I am now seeking this amount from the City as part of this claim,” states Kerr in his claim. (Former Turlock City Manager Files Claim Against City)
City of Turlock Cross Complaint Against Tim Kerr Explains Reasons for Termination
While Tim Kerr and the City of Turlock are still in litigation over Kerr’s claim of benefit payment included in his severance package, the City of Turlock has filed a Cross Complaint against Tim Kerr.
The City’s court document explains their reasons for firing Tim Kerr based on Kerr’s alleged breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.
Specific allegations include Tim Kerr’s failure to ensure repayment and collect a 2007 Council authorized $90,000 loan to the Turlock Centennial Committee as directed and furthermore that Kerr authorized the committee to divert community donations to be used for purposes other than repayment of the City’s loan.
A second allegation listed in the Cross Complaint alleges that Kerr was authorized to execute only contracts approved by the City Council but nevertheless executed employment contracts with employees Sydnee D. Alyster and Charlie Woods. Both contracts resulted in significant payments of salary and benefits by the City after they were no longer employed by the City of Turlock.
Other allegations of not fulfilling fiduciary obligations included in Kerr’s contract involve extending salary and benefits to the Executive Assistant to the City Manager/City Clerk, a City Employee, and one of Kerr’s direct reports, above and beyond the maximum provided for in the compensation plan authorized by the Council and required by Resolution.
Another personnel matter alleges that Kerr hired four employees into the competitive service, without approval of the City Council, and without complying with the hiring process required by the Turlock Municipal Code. The alleged failure of Kerr’s contractual and fiduciary obligations while filling four positions (City Manager/Assistant, Assistant to City Manager/Economic Development/Redevelopment, and Support Services Supervisor) includes failure in publishing or posting of notices of tests for positions in the competitive service; the receiving of applications therefore; the conducting and grading of tests; and the certification to the appointing power of a list of all persons eligible for appointment to the appropriate position in the competitive service.
In addition to the other two personnel issues, Kerr is alleged of going against Councils’ “clear directive” of a hiring freeze when Kerr authorized and permitted to fill 8 firefighter positions.
The City of Turlock is furthermore charging Kerr with failure to fulfill his fiduciary and contractual obligations of attendance as the City alleges that Kerr would only come to the City’s offices and/or work about four hours per day.
“Kerr’s attendance was so limited that, on January 5, 2008, the City Council passed a motion specifically establishing ‘standards of accountability for the City Manager’ to include attendance in the office, unless on City business from 8am to 5pm,” states the City’s Cross Complaint.
Tim Kerr did not respond to the opportunity to clarify, give an update on his case, or communicate in any manner.
Divided Council, Political Contention
The Cross Complaint against Tim Kerr was a split vote, but it was a decision and approved action by the Turlock City Council.
While the Cross Complaint against Tim Kerr does not mention any Council Members or political issues, Councilman Ted Howze has felt compelled to clarify his real concern, Mayor John Lazar.
Howze made a statement saying “It was truly sad to watch the former City Manager spend most of his limited work hours trying to keep the City Council and members of the community at each other’s throats so the focus would be off of himself.”
“The real tragedy of the situation was Mayor Lazar’s absolute unwillingness to hold the former City Manager accountable because Tim Kerr enabled the Mayor’s political and personal financial agenda,” said Howze. “My own personal conversations with the Mayor about firing Kerr resulted in threats from the Mayor of personal embarrassment and political attacks if any such attempts were made.”
Mayor John Lazar stated that the Cross Complaint was the will of the majority of Council but that he believed Howze definitely influenced, if not directed, what the court document stated.
“It’s amazing how Councilman Howze has been concerned with members of Council publicly discussing closed session information regarding litigation, yet he comments on pending litigation while attacking a fellow colleague with personal unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing,” said Mayor Lazar. “He (Howze) is using a lawsuit for political gain pandering.”