TCOG Executive Director Susan Thomas wasn't fired Thursday, but it wasn't exactly a victory for her either.
(Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.)
(Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Grayson County Judge Bill Magers' given name.)
Two months after the governing board for the Texoma Council of Governments tabled action on the executive director’s contract, it decided Thursday not to renew the contract but to keep Executive Director Susan Thomas on the staff as an at-will employee.
The action came after the meeting reconvened into open session following a closed session lasting more than two hours. Fannin County Judge Spanky Carter made the motion for this action, but he noted Thomas was an at-will employee before her three-year contract.
“I believe that the best way to handle this situation is to not continue with the contract situation,” Carter said. “It’s my understanding that Dr. Thomas’ contract expires Aug. 31 of this year. My motion would be that we not renew Dr. Thomas’ contract, but she remain as an at-will employee.”
The motion was second by Sherman council member Kevin Couch, and it passed with one vote against. TCOG Board President Jason Brinkley, the Cooke County judge, said the contract with Thomas is one of the first times, if not the first, a TCOG executive director has been under contract.
“The board felt it was best for her to go back to that status,” Brinkley said. “Most COGs — my understanding, that’s the way their executive director is.”
Thomas said she was an at-will employee for her first four years as executive director. She said the contact was put together after it was discovered that her salary was not in line with the market. To get the salary up to market, there was going to be several increases, which caused the board to want to ensure Thomas would stay. Now that her salary has reached market, Thomas said there’s no need for the contract.
“I think they were very compelled to do what was in the best interest of the organization — to do what was fair and right, and something that the entire board could support,” Thomas said. “I think that’s what was driving them — the best interests of the organization is the No. 1 priority for them.”
At the April 20 meeting, the board was divided on what to do with Thomas’ contract as controversies involving the executive director set the scene for the discussion. The board members opinions on the matter clashed as evidenced by the multiple motions that failed when put to a vote. After much deliberation, the board ultimately decided to postpone the decision to the June meeting.
Since that meeting, Grayson County Judge Bill Magers and Grayson County commissioners and Sherman City Councilor Couch have voiced opposition to Thomas, while other board members and TCOG employees have done the opposite.
Grayson County Commissioner Jeff Whitmire said the Thursday decision is reverting back to the original conditions of Thomas’ employment.
“It wasn’t my preferred outcome, but I felt like it was a compromise — the best compromise outcome that could be achieved with this board,” Whitmire said.
Whitmire noted that as far as he knows, Grayson County will stay in TCOG.
“I feel like there is a way to get to an acceptable resolution of TCOG status,” Whitmire said. “It’s just taking an excruciatingly long time to get there. We’ll get there.”
Thomas said several board members spent time with Thomas in three- and four-hour long meeting where Thomas answered questions and reviewed information with them. Several board members also came for a lunch session and met with employees and asked them questions.
“A lot of the board members sitting on this table invested a tremendous amount of time and effort, which I am very grateful for, to ensure that we could together move forward in the best interest of the organization,” Thomas said.
In October 2015, a maintenance worker reported that his supervisor Gary Edwards perpetrated fraud, waste and abuse inside the Texoma Housing Partners. Edwards was fired the next day, but the executive leadership became entangled in the aftermath of allegations, investigations and questions that continue. Former Finance Director Stacee Sloan Caskey began an investigation and filed a report in November 2015. During this time, the working relationships between the executive leadership became fractured, and Sloan Caskey was terminated in January 2016.
The termination led Sloan Caskey to file a lawsuit against Thomas, professionally and individually, former board President Keith Clegg and TCOG itself. Thomas claimed Sloan Caskey was terminated as she was insubordinate and causing disruptions. Sloan Caskey claimed her investigation into fraud, waste and abuse was shut down by Thomas, so Thomas could protect a subordinate employee with whom Thomas had a relationship. Sloan Caskey claimed she was wrongly disciplined, defamed and terminated as a result.
A settlement for the suit was approved at the same April board meeting when the board discussed Thomas’ contract, and Sloan Caskey was paid $555,000 plus 18 months of COBRA insurance for her and her family. Board members previously said the suit cost taxpayers about $930,000 with the settlement, legal fees and insurance costs.
Thursday’s agenda listed a number of other items but after taking the single action related to Thomas, the board voted to table most of the agenda and adjourn.