SOUTHMAYD — Council member David Turner, Southmayd’s representative on the governing board of the Texoma Council of Governments, gave the city an update about last month’s TCOG meeting during which the board approved a settlement of a suit and tabled action on whether to renew or let expire the contract of the organization’s executive director.
At the city council meeting Tuesday, Turner read a prepared report on what he has witnessed and discovered while serving on the TCOG board for about a year. He also recounted the actions at the last meeting in which board tabled until June action on TCOG Executive Director Susan Thomas’ contract, which is set to expire on Aug. 31.
“While I find Dr. Susan Thomas’s choice to have a workplace relationship approximately five to six years ago unacceptable, there was and is no workplace policy and procedure covering this to have had the board take action on it back then when it was made public knowledge,” Turner said. “So I see no reason to let this one mistake govern the other good positive leadership choices she has made this past five to six years. A wise man once said, forgive the sinner and hate the sin.”
At the April 20 TCOG meeting, the board’s executive committee made the recommendation to not renew the contract, but discussion by the board and the eventual motion to table showed a divide among members. A motion to not renew the contract and have Thomas out at the end of the week was amended to include a transitional period, which was put to a vote. The motion failed in a 6-6 vote.
“This transitional time became a debated topic as well as the issue to renew the contract or not,” Turner said to the council. “This led to a motion to table the vote to allow time for further debate and an opportunity for the board to make a more informed decision on renewing or not renewing the contract.”
Earlier that same night, the TCOG board approved a settlement on the suit filed by a former Finance Director Stacee Sloan Caskey against Thomas, a former board president and TCOG itself. TCOG agreed to pay Sloan Caskey $555,000 plus 18 months of COBRA insurance for her and her family. Board members said the suit cost taxpayers about $930,000, which includes the expenses involved in the settlement and legal fees.
Sloan Caskey claims she was fired from her job improperly after looking into issues of fraud, waste and abuse. She claims a relationship Thomas had with a subordinate employee influenced her termination.
“Unfortunately it cost almost a million dollars total after awards to the plaintiff and attorney’s fees were paid,” Turner said. “During this time we had to read several transcripts; I would say several hundred … pages that are available for the general public should you like to take the same amount of time I had to spend reading all of them.”
Grayson County Judge Bill Magers and Commissioner Jeff Whitmire referred to those pages, sworn depositions, at a commissioners court meeting on April 25 when they asked Thomas to resign from her position. Sherman council member Kevin Couch, also a TCOG board member, gave an update to the Sherman City Council last week where he outlined reasons for the board not to renew Thomas’ contract.
TCOG executive assistant Sean Norton, who was also at the Southmayd council meeting Tuesday, said Turner presented an opinion of the board members who support Thomas, which helps provide a more complete picture of what’s going on.
“I believe that in order for a fair and accurate decision to be made that the entirety of the matter should be considered,” Norton said, “including any unanticipated results that were to occur from a decision that wasn’t very thought through or didn’t consider all of the factors and consequences surrounding that very important decision.”
Turner said he toured TCOG and he recently had an opportunity to speak with its employees about the board’s decisions. He noted he found a positive work environment, and the organization is living up to its mission.
“In between stories of how they love changing people’s lives and exactly how they get the opportunity to do so on a daily basis, I also asked for feedback on how they were treated by managers and senior staff,” Turner said. “Everyone I spoke with stated they were treated fairly by not only their seniors but also by their fellow staff members.”
Norton noted Turner has spent time learning about the organization, talking with staff and developing a rapport, which he said is important for board members to do but is rare.
“I feel it’s important for them to understand the culture that we espouse at the COG, the effectiveness of the service that we deliver and the efficiency in doing that as well,” Norton said.
Turner ended his address stating he sees “no reckless spending, no corruption and absolute accountability by each member that is hired by TCOG.”