So Seth Lawless resigns as Knightdale’s town manager (of his own will, according to statements from the town and Lawless himself.) The Town Council is so sad to see him go they offer him $114,000 as a parting gift.
We’ve tried and tried to think of an instance in which someone quits their job and gets that kind of money for leaving the rest of the staff to make do on its own. It doesn’t happen in private enterprise. Frankly, it doesn’t happen in public work either. People who get severance pay negotiate that number in return for their departure. That means, in this case, the town was willing to trade $114,000 for Lawless’ departure.
Here’s another way to look at this. Lawless, since he decided to quit, will get about $9,500 per month in salary and benefits. For doing nothing. He will get nearly $2,200 each week for the next year for doing nothing.
The town’s lawyer, Clyde Holt, says the payoff is a show of respect and gratitude for Lawless’ years of service. Frankly, Holt’s comments are in insult to every intelligent taxpayer in Knightdale. It is equally telling that the negotiated severance agreement includes a gag order that prevents either side from the discussing the matter. What’s the danger in having Lawless or the council explain their actions?
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Two things are troubling to us and they should be equally troubling to Knightdale voters and taxpayers.
First, the terms of Lawless’ employment allow for the Town Council to remove him without cause, so council members shouldn’t be ashamed of just telling their constituents they wanted their own hire in the job. That’s the political nature of the job. When a new mayor or a new council takes office, it has the ability to put employees into place that will do the work the way the elected leaders want. Lawless and any other town manager know this is the risk they take when they accept a job. So that means council members are perfectly within their right to replace Lawless. So why the subterfuge? Is it possible that Knightdale’s elected leaders really think their constituents are so naive as to believe they did not push Lawless out the door? If so, one must wonder about the intellectual capacity of those sitting in elected seats.
Secondly, if we were to accept the town’s version of events, we must ask ourselves if they are really being good stewards of public money if they are willing to pay someone who leaves them at the altar to the tune of $9,500 per month.
Knightdale’s elected officials will hem and haw at every turn when someone asks them about this ugly episode and they will never likely admit their role in encouraging Lawless’ departure. Knightdale’s voters should remember that come election time when they ask themselves just what kind of ethical standards they should hold their public officials to.
Do they want elected leaders who work out backroom deals then deny their roles in them? Or do they want public officials with the courage to stand publicly behind their actions? We think voters would prefer the latter. They do not have that in Knightdale today.