City council should let residents know about its actions

As your community newspaper, our obligation as a watchdog of the actions of local government continues.

At its Wednesday, Aug. 16 meeting, the Susanville City Council announced the city and Jared Hancock, the city’s administrator, had mutually agreed to end their relationship effective Oct. 11. Neither Hancock nor the city have revealed the reasons behind this decision, but the terms of that agreement are the public’s business, and the council should have been more open and transparent in the release of this information.

It all started when Jessica Ryan, the city’s attorney, made a brief statement regarding the council’s and Hancock’s mutual Aug. 16 closed-session decision. She provided few details but said the city would issue a statement soon.

A statement on city letterhead followed on Friday, Aug. 18 — mostly praising Hancock and his dedication — but it provided no information regarding the separation agreement between Hancock and the city.

When asked about the lack of detailed information during a telephone interview later that same day after the newspaper received Ryan’s statement, Hancock said he and the city had decided upon the terms of the agreement, but the two parties were still working out the specific language of the agreement.

Responding to a question from the newspaper regarding the disclosure of information regarding the agreement at the council’s Wednesday, Sept. 6 meeting, Ryan provided a few details regarding the separation agreement. Thursday morning, Sept. 7, the city released a similar statement via email.

According to Ryan and her statement, Hancock will receive a cash payment of $125,000 and payment for his accrued vacation time as “full and final payment for all wage and benefit obligations the city of Susanville owes Mr. Hancock including the severance pay outlined in the employment contract of Mr. Hancock.” Until his final day with the city, Hancock may provide up to 12 hours of independent consulting services to entities other than the city, subject to “conflict review” by Ryan. Finally, Hancock and the city will enter into a “post-separation consulting agreement” in which Hancock will serve “on an as needed basis.”

A few minutes later that same morning on Sept. 7, the city released a copy of the separation agreement that included details that were not reported at the Aug. 16 meeting or in Ryan’s statement.

The separation agreement was signed by Kathie Garnier, the city’s mayor, Hancock and Ryan on Sept. 6.

The separation agreement revealed the council voted 4-0 on Aug. 16 to end its relationship with Hancock (councilmember Joe Franco was absent).

One of the provisions of the separation agreement is that Hancock and the city will “enter into a post-separation agreement at the previously discussed rate and terms.”

When we asked about the separation agreement on Thursday, Sept. 7, Hancock said his employment contract with the city contains a severance agreement under which he will be paid one-month’s salary for every year of employment with the city (eight years). He said he will earn $150 per hour as an independent contractor and consultant on an as needed basis after Oct. 11. He said this newspaper’s request for a copy of his employment contract would be considered as an official Public Records Act request.

We wonder if our readers are as confused, concerned and frustrated as we are by this lack of transparency from the city council? Why did it take the city weeks to disclose information regarding their closed session decision? And why is the council — that voted 4-0 to end its relationship with Hancock — even interested in retaining him as a consultant after his departure instead of just picking up the pieces and moving forward?

The councilmembers should remember they are elected to serve the people of our community in an open and transparent way. Taxpayers deserve nothing less and should demand nothing less.