In a dramatic emergency City Council meeting May 24, Councilor Mary Wescott apologized to City Manager Greg Baker for “bringing him to this hellhole of a city.” Within moments she exited and Baker had the official recognition of his resignation accepted by the City Council. Wescott resigned her seat later the same day.

The taxpayers of this city cut a severance check for $317,000. A number of citizens are confused and angry over this action by the council. Some cite this stupefying amount or the seemingly hasty and unexplained process. The citizens who support disincorporation say this is yet another reason to just shut the lights off for good.

Councilor Randy Shannon, at a recent council meeting, took the self-serving opportunity during a discussion of a resolution amending council rules to blame Mayor Steve Spinnett for the failure of the resolution the council was about to change.

But that will not make what happened on Dec. 17, 2012, go away, or change what Shannon and other councilors engineered during a lame duck council session. That night was the darkest night our taxpayers had ever experienced.

The most financially irresponsible contract this city has ever seen resulted in a hogtied council and a horrific 15-percent hit to the cash reserves of the city.

The amended employment contract that was bestowed on Baker by the previous council (6-1 with Spinnett the only no vote) added about $300,000 on top of what he would have gotten under the original contract.

There was an immediate cash payment to him of $10,000, plus $5,000 to his attorney. It also absolved him of any actions that he did or may have done from his date of hire that could have released him from employment for cause. It also created an impossibly narrow window to release Baker with cause in the future if that situation was to occur.

There also is the curious clause in the contract that he would be paid full severance upon disincorporation of the city. In other words, it was a reverse employee performance clause. He would be paid in full in the event of failure of the city to survive or until the end of December 2014. Former councilors Diana Helm and Mary Wescott, both publicly in support of disincorporation, voted in favor of this at the time.

That night the city attorney did not answer the question whether Baker had violated his employment contract by refusing to meet earlier in the year for three weeks in a row with the mayor to discuss the council agenda.

These meetings were a requirement of council rules. The mayor first posed that question to the city attorney months before December, and it is still unanswered today.

But this type of cavalier handling of taxpayers’ money and indifference to consequences was not unique to the majority of the previous council. With a history of trying to kick Goodwill Industries out of town, years of bloated spending on crafting a comprehensive plan that failed 2-1 with the voters, to serial censoring of the mayor for political reasons, our citizens are rightfully weary.

Damascus is a city that is facing the dual challenges of completing a comprehensive plan and the question of disincorporation.

Both issues will be on the ballot separately this November.

I ran on preserving the city charter and to reforming the way the council does business. We have made positive strides in the budget and comprehensive plan processes.

The new council has only been in place since last January. We are still shoveling the street where the previous council’s parade went by.

Hopefully our citizens will vote to stay incorporated and take part in the development and enjoyment of our city.

Bill Wehr is a Damascus city councilor and resident of Damascus for 37 years. This guest comment is Wehr’s personal opinion and does not represent the opinion of any other Damascus city councilor.

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