The Governing Board for the Texoma Council of Governments tabled action until June on whether to renew or let expire the contract of the organization's executive director Thursday evening.
(Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout and to correct the spelling of Jason Brinkley's surname.)
The Governing Board for the Texoma Council of Governments tabled action until June on whether to renew or let expire the contract of the organization’s executive director Thursday evening.
After about a half-hour of discussion with a previous motion amended and then failed, the board approved a motion to table the action regarding the extension or expiration of TCOG Executive Director Susan Thomas’ contract. The approved motion was made by Keith Clegg with eight of the members voting for it and four voting against.
Thomas, who became executive director in 2008, has a current three-year contract that began Sept. 1, 2014 and ends Aug. 31. The last compensation period ran from May 1, 2016 through April 30, 2017, for the amount of $129,652. Board President Jason Brinkley said Thomas would be paid the same salary rate for the rest of her contract period.
According to Thomas’ contract, the board must provide 120 days written notice if it wishes to extend or let the contract expire. If the board wishes to end the contract upon its expiration, the contract states, “the parties hereby agree to work cooperatively for the remainder of the Agreement term including working together, as may be appropriate, on the search for a new Executive Director and to agree to terms, if needed, for any transitional/consulting services by the present Executive Director upon expiration of this Agreement.”
Thomas previously sent the board a letter of intent to stay with the organization.
Before the board began discussion on the agenda item, Thomas addressed the board as TCOG staff and many others in attendance stood to show support.
“I know some you are honest in struggling with this decision, and I know that you are ready for this saga to be over,” Thomas said. “Trust me, there’s not a soul in this room who wants to get past this more than I do. However, a hasty decision tonight will in the long run do more to harm this board and impede this organization than it will to create any goodness at all. I cannot in good conscience stand by and let the board members I know who are trying to do the right thing make this decision without all the relevant information.”
Bill Lindsey, a former Denison mayor and current TCOG staff-board liaison, spoke next and voiced his support for Thomas. Cooke County Judge Brinkley then delivered the executives committee’s recommendation on the matter. The committee, which is formed by Brinkley, board Vice President Kevin Couch and Secretary/Treasurer Spanky Carter, made the recommendation to not renew the contract.
“Speaking just for myself, I think there came to light in the course of the litigation that there have been fractures at various times over the past couple of years in the executive leadership team because of previous actions,” Brinkley said.
Brinkley said these previous actions have reverberated on multiple occasions and there’s no guarantee they will not continue to reverberate. He said they have a duty to limit the liability of TCOG, which comes with not renewing the contract.
“I think it’s our fiduciary responsibility to limit the liability of those actions, and the way to do that is to not renew with our executive director’s contract,” Brinkley said. “This is not a decision I have come at easily; it’s not a decision I enjoy making, but it’s a decision I truly believe is the right decision.”
Earlier in the evening, the board approved the settlement with Stacee Sloan Caskey, who filed suits against Thomas, former board President Keith Clegg and TCOG itself. Sloan Caskey alleged in the suit that she was fired from her finance director job improperly because she asked to place a reprimand note in the file of an employee with whom Thomas had previously had a romantic relationship. It also states Sloan Caskey was investigating alleged fraud committed by someone who was supervised by that same employee.
Sloan-Caskey will receive $555,000 plus 18 months of COBRA insurance, which board member Jeff Whitmire said is valued at $25,000.
The decision to approve the settlement came after the board exited an executive session, which lasted about 45 minutes. Whitmire made the motion to “approve the settlement agreement and mutual release of all claims and authorize Judge Brinkley to sign the agreement.” The board voted unanimously to approve it.
Whitmire said following the meeting that the other parties involved in the suit previously signed the agreement. Once it was approved by the board, all it requires is Brinkley’s final signature as he is the president of the board.
Whitmire said of the $555,000 to be paid to Sloan Caskey, $55,000 will come directly from TCOG. The rest will be paid from the Texas Municipal League, which provides insurance for TCOG in the event of lawsuits. From the suit, TCOG will also pay $220,000 in legal fees. Whitmire said the suit cost taxpayers about $930,000 with all the settlement, insurance costs and legal fees.
“It’s not costing TCOG necessarily that $930,000, but it’s costing taxpayers that amount of money because TML is funded through tax revenues,” Whitmire said.
Speaking to the board Thursday, Thomas said, she felt some lacked a complete understanding of the circumstances.
“I’m not sure each of you understands the full perspective and complete story of the lawsuit,” Thomas said to the board during her address. “I’m not sure all of you understand who I am as a leader or the nature of the relationship at the COG, or what makes us a family and why we’ve been able to produce the way we have over the last eight years. I don’t believe anyone has fully evaluated the consequences and potential financial fallout associated with this decision.”
The board was divided on what action to take with about half voicing support for Thomas and the other half asking to not renew the contract. Couch made a motion to not renew the contract but give accelerated payment to Thomas for the rest of her contract term. The original motion would have put Thomas out of the job at the end of Friday.
After discussion, Couch later amended the motion that would not extend the contract but would pay Thomas until the end of the contract period and Brinkley would head a transition process during this time. The motion was seconded by Whitmire, and the board voted. Six members voted for and six voted against, causing a tie and the motion to fail.
A motion to table action on this item was later placed and approved. The board will take the matter up again at its regular June meeting.
Herald Democrat Criminal Justice Editor Jerrie Whiteley contributed to this report.