Town council members approved a severance package of more than $100,000 for former Town Manager Seth Lawless, who resigned from the position last month shortly after returning from a forced health leave.
Lawless will receive the balance of his salary at his pay rate when he resigned for 9.5 months of pay, a sum of $92,853. He will receive $10,820 for accumulated leave time, including vacation. He will get $4,750 for his travel allowance and $1,564 for longevity pay.
Also, Lawless is to get $3,125 to assist with monthly health insurance premiums under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, and $1,200 for out-of-pocket medical expenses he incurred during the nearly three months he was out on temporary health leave.
The Town Council voted unanimously at its regular meeting Tuesday, July 5, to accept the package, worth a total of $114,312.
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The agreement includes a gag order that says Lawless “agrees not to make any public statements, written or oral, or to take any action that would or might disparage, disrupt, impair, or affect adversely Knightdale and its employees, officers, directors, or agents, or place Knightdale or such individuals in any negative light.”
The agreement restricts Knightdale from making “any public statements, written or oral, regarding (Lawless’) departure from employment with Knightdale.” The deal also restricts both parties from taking legal action.
Both parties agree in the deal that the end of Lawless’ employment was voluntary and without cause, though Mayor James Roberson has said the Town Council told Lawless to remain out on sick leave longer than he wanted to.
The council met in closed session for about 30 minutes Tuesday before coming back into open session to announce the deal.
Town attorney Clyde Holt presented the agreement to the council, saying the council instructed him to meet with Lawless “to discuss with him appropriate compensation and other terms, a severance agreement that would recognize his years of service and his dedication to the town over the years but which would also provide appropriate protections to the town regarding potential claims.”
Lawless, whose last day was June 30, was not at the meeting. During his invocation, council member Randy Young made mention of a medical procedure Lawless was undergoing. Young left the meeting before he could be asked to elaborate and did not return calls left for him at his office Wednesday.
Lawless was out on temporary health leave from February to almost the end of April, coming back for a little over a month before resigning suddenly last month.
Hal Mason, a Garner retiree with decades of experience in municipal governments in North and South Carolina who served as acting town manager for part of the time Lawless was on leave, has taken on the role of interim manager as the town searches for a permanent replacement in the post.
Mason said Administrative Services Director Suzanne Yeatts contacted him at the request of Mayor James Roberson about two weeks ago to come back. Roberson had said in a previous interview that the town would probably bring Mason into the role again if he was available.
“They’re going through getting started on the approval process for a new manager,” Mason said, “and I’ll help them as I can.”
Mason is contracted again to work about 10 hours a week at $40 an hour.
Lawless had served as assistant town manager since 2006 before being appointed town manager in 2010. Before coming to Knightdale, he had worked for the towns of Franklinton, Beech Mountain and Nags Head.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826