Polk settles with county manager for $178k

Published 9:27 pm Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Commissioners accept manager’s resignation

Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson will not return to his job next week as commissioners agreed to a $178,590 settlement for his resignation.

The majority of the Polk County Board of Commissioners Monday, March 3 accepted Whitson’s resignation, approved the terms of a voluntary separation agreement and transferred $178,590 from the county’s fund balance.

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Commissioners returned from closed session Monday and approved a motion 4-1 to accept Whitson’s resignation and pay him per a voluntary separation agreement.

Commissioner Michael Gage made the motion with commissioner Tom Pack seconding. Commissioner Ray Gasperson voted against the motion.

“Mr. chairman, I make a motion we accept the resignation of Ryan Whitson effective March 11, 2014 at 9:55 p.m.,” Gage said. “Approve the terms of a proposed voluntary separation agreement and general release between Ryan Whitson and Polk County. To authorize the chair of the board of commissioners to execute the agreement on behalf of the board of commissioners and to direct the finance director to make a budget amendment to transfer the sum of $178,590 from the fund balance to amend salaries.”

After the motion was approved, several comments were made from the audience of about 30 residents who waited for commissioners to return from closed session.

“What are you spending all this money on?” asked one resident.

Another asked, “what’s the $178,000 for?”

Gary Poague called commissioners “crooks” as he walked out the door.

“That’s it, you crooks just declared war on Mr. Poague and I’m going to declare war right back,” Poague said. “You’re going to hear from my attorney. This is just the beginning.”

Whitson, who has been Polk’s manager since 2007, was scheduled to return from active duty with the U.S. Army Reserves on Monday, March 10. He left for active duty in December 2012 and has been stationed as the Command Sergeant Major of the 1st Training Brigade of the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (A) at Fort Dix, NJ.

Commissioners appointed former information technologies director Marche Pittman as interim county manager in December 2012.

Whitson’s contract with the county was to end in March 2015, when he would have been the county’s manager for eight years. The contract included a three months severance package plus one month’s salary for every year Whitson was the county’s manager. The settlement mirrors Whitson’s current salary for one year plus the contract’s severance package. Whitson’s base salary was $80,799. Including benefits his salary package amounted to $101,433.

Whitson sent commissioners a letter on Feb. 3 informing the county of his intent to return as county manager on March 10.

“Per my individual verbal conversations with you on 23 Jan. 2014, it is my intent and desire to return to work for Polk County Government as its county manager on 10 Mar 2014,” Whitson said in his letter.

Whitson said his mobilization order ends on Feb. 5 and he will be on annual training orders from Feb. 6 through March 6.

“I look forward to returning to Polk County and reassuming my duties as county manager,” said Whitson in his letter. “I am glad to be coming home. Thank you for supporting me in this mobilization and for your support of the United States Army Reserve.”

Following the county’s receipt of Whitson’s letter, commissioners placed on its agenda for its Feb. 17 meeting the consideration of creating an assistant county manager position. Commissioners took the item off the agenda saying that interim county manager Pittman proposed the position and since he was absent from the meeting the item would not be discussed. Pittman suffered a seizure on the morning of Feb. 17 on his way into the office causing him to knock down two power poles at the intersection of Mills and Courthouse Streets in Columbus. Pittman was unable to attend the Feb. 17 meeting, where in the county’s packet of information he had included a letter and job description, including recommendations from Whitson and county attorney Jana Berg as to the county’s need for an assistant county manager/CIO/personnel manager/human resources officer.

Several residents spoke negatively about the proposed position during the Feb. 17 meeting, mainly noting that the proposed $96,077 annual salary for the proposed assistant county manager position was not good use of taxpayer money. Commissioners never revisited the proposed position.

Pittman was released by physicians to return to work on Feb. 26 on a part-time basis. Commissioner chair Ted Owens said Monday that Pittman was attempting to work full time this week. Owens also said that Pittman will be interim manager until the county selects a permanent manager.

The Bulletin contacted Whitson following the commissioners’ decision Monday night where he made no comments about the settlement.

The terms of the settlement are not being made public as the document is part of Whitson’s personnel file, according to Owens.