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City department heads moved here at taxpayer expense; others get a vehicle benefit


Fire Chief Chris Riley drove this Ford Interceptor. - COLORADO SPRINGS FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • Colorado Springs Fire Department
  • Fire Chief Chris Riley drove this Ford Interceptor.

When a person reaches the department head level in a sizable city government, one might expect special treatment.

And that's been true of people hired by former Mayor Steve Bach. In addition to the promise of severance pay, which has put the city on the hook for more than $800,000 should appointees be terminated without cause ("Cashing out," March 16), his top-level hires have received moving expenses and accommodations for vehicles.

The issue arises in the wake of the departure of former Fire Chief Chris Riley, who was paid $80,117 (six months' salary) under his employment agreement engineered by Bach. Although severance pay rarely is paid when a person retires, as Riley did, current Mayor John Suthers has said he felt obligated to provide severance pay due to the prior deal. (Riley left under a transition agreement that suggests he didn't merely retire but was forced out; termination for cause disqualifies an employee for severance pay.)

Bach left office in June, but while mayor from 2011 to 2015, he OKed relocation expenses for three appointees who came here from other states and one who moved from only 40 miles away at a total cost of $62,818.

Those whose moving expenses were reimbursed, where they moved from and when, and those amounts:

• Parks Director Karen Palus: Tampa, Florida, in June 2012, $27,274.

• City Clerk Sarah Johnson: Springfield, Kentucky, in June 2012, $12,449.

• Planning Director Peter Wysocki: Round Rock, Texas, in December 2012, $18,095.

• Riley: Pueblo in September 2013, $5,000.

It's not unusual to pay relocation expenses for executives. In 1996, the city reimbursed then-City Manager Jim Mullen $26,287 to move from Prince William County, Virginia. In 2007, City Council agreed to pay up to $20,000 to relocate then-City Manager Penny Culbreth-Graft from California.

More recently, Dan Gallagher, hired in 2010 as the Colorado Springs Airport's deputy aviation director, moved from San Antonio and was reimbursed $11,690. (In 2013, Bach sidelined Gallagher's boss, Mark Earle, agreeing to keep him on as an advisor without a city office through that year, and then Bach promoted Gallagher to aviation director.)

Another perk enjoyed by six Bach department heads has been either a car allowance or use of a city vehicle. A seventh who's entitled to a monthly allowance, Chief Communications Officer Carl Nehls, hasn't claimed one.

Two opted for their monthly allowance. Gallagher collected $840 last year for vehicle expenses, while City Attorney Wynetta Massey was paid $3,365 in 2015 for a car allowance. (At $192,276, Massey is the highest paid city employee reporting to the mayor.)

Four Bach appointees were given the use of a city vehicle, which seems to make sense given their jobs.

• Emergency Management & Recovery Director and Deputy Chief of Staff Bret Waters drives a city-owned 2014 Ford Explorer.

• Police Chief Pete Carey uses a 2014 Dodge Charger All Wheel Drive sedan.

• City Engineer Travis Easton drives a 1999 Dodge Durango.

• Former Fire Chief Riley had driven a 2014 Ford Interceptor sedan. (The vehicle is "parked" until a new fire chief is selected, department spokesman Capt. Steve Oswald says.)

It's worth noting that Mayor Suthers' appointees — Chief of Staff Jeff Greene and Communications Director Jamie Fabos, both of whom already lived here when hired — don't accept a car allowance as offered in their employment agreements.

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