Exit Employment Agreement For Red Bank City Manager Tim Thornbury Is Finally Approved

Wednesday, May 19, 2021 - by Gail Perry

At the fifth meeting about City Manager Tim Thornbury’s status in Red Bank, an amendment to the employment agreement between the city and Mr. Thornbury was approved. At the commission meeting Thursday night, despite repeated attempts by the mayor and vice mayor to alter the proposal, the vote was to accept it as written. The original contract between the city and Mr. Thornbury was entered into on Nov. 6, 2018 when the responsibilities of the city manager were added to his existing position as director of the public works department and building inspector.


Attorney Sam Elliott, representing Mr. Thornbury regarding his contract, told the commissioners that it is well known that city manager jobs do not last long. When there is an election, things could change, so he asked for a contract to give him an exit which led to this proposed amendment to the agreement.


In the agreement that was finally passed, Mr. Thornbury will cease the duties of city manager and public works director, and will perform all the duties for all commercial building inspections required by the city until another inspector is hired or is certified to conduct the inspections. This arrangement will end on March 31, 2022. He will also provide on-call services upon request from the interim city manager for assisting in preparation of the 2021-2022 city budget, assisting with the transportation improvement projects that are in process, assisting with the notice of noncompliance from the National Park Service regarding the conversion of the old Red Bank Middle School property on Dayton Boulevard, as well as assisting with other transition matters and projects within the city that he has experience and knowledge of.


Under this agreement, he will be paid his current level of compensation which is $110,000. He will also be eligible to get health insurance and retirement benefits, vacation, sick leave, and an automobile allowance through Oct. 31.


Attorney Mark Litchford was retained to represent the city after City Attorney Arnold Stulce recused himself because of the long-time relationship he has had with Mr. Thornbury. Mr. Litchford told the commissioners that an on-call employee would be subject to responding to the city manager at any time. If the commissioners suggest that he resign, according to his original contract, the city would have to pay for 12 months of work and get nothing in return.


Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton questioned the provisions for Mr. Thornbury to receive benefits. She contended that according to the city’s personnel policy, benefits could only be paid to full-time employees working 40 hours a week, not those working on an as-call basis. She suggested that he should step back into the public works role he held in the past, but maintaining his current salary. Mayor Berry agreed.


Attorney Elliott replied that the vice mayor was being “overly technical” and that a contract is an obligation that can be changed and that obligations in it can be removed by the commissioners. Both attorneys Elliott and Litchford agreed that the board of commissioners has the power to adjust a change to a contract. Mr. Litchford added that after asking John Alexander, who was later approved to serve as interim city manager, he was told that Mr. Thornbury will be in the field or meeting with professional people every day. Mr. Litchford said that the designation of “full-time” is not in any job description in the city’s personnel policy. The responsibilities of each job are determined by the city manager. “I’m satisfied on-call complies with the city’s employment policy," said Mr. Litchford.


Commissioner Ruth Jeno said some of the projects that Mr. Thornbury has been working on have been ongoing for years and many are being funded by grants which he has been instrumental in getting and managing. The city would lose more that he would be paid for the next 12 months if those projects were lost. She added that he has also been working with the WWTA Board with regards to getting the sewer moratorium lifted in order to move forward with development of the old middle school property.


The vice mayor responded that she has concerns regarding any and all of the projects he has been working on that have not all been approved by the municipal planning commission as required before making changes to any public property. She said that all on-going projects need to sent back through the planning commission, which she said was required by state law.


She added that in the past year, he did 95 building inspections which, she said that she has read, takes around four hours each to perform, implying that would not require his attention full-time.


Mr. Thornbury responded that the first step in all municipal projects is for the city manager to receive approval from the commissioners to go forward in applying for funding or grants. He said that was done for each project. “My point is that I have to get your approval first,” he said. Three new projects were sent to the planning commission this week for review even though a recommendation to proceed is not needed for routine work such as simple resurfacing, he said. Widening the Lullwater Bridge was the project that did need approval because it altered the width, but repaving on Dayton Boulevard and updating ADA requirements did not need approval, but were sent due to the concern from the vice mayor.


Mayor Berry said if the agreement is reached that the city would still be looking for a new city manager, which she has been told takes around three months. So she suggested shortening the term of the on-call agreement for it to end on Nov. 6. When Mr. Elliott said that would not be acceptable, she withdrew her motion.


Then Vice Mayor Dalton said that the creation of the new position of commercial building inspector would set a dangerous precedent for future city managers and despite a legal opinion from Mr. Litchford representing the city, again suggested that he be assigned to the established position of public works director. “I don’t feel that creating a new position will help Red Bank going forward with future city managers,” she said.


“With my long experience with cities,” said attorney Elliott, “city managers talk. You have an agreement with Mr. Thornbury that is mutually beneficial. When you say it is jeopardizing Red Bank’s future, it is actually the opposite because Red Bank would not be honoring its agreements, so respectfully, you’ll have trouble in the future.”


“He still wants to do the job,” said Commissioner Pete Phillips. “He just doesn’t want to deal with us. Mr. Thornbury, his attorney and our attorney have all agreed to the contract. It will all fall apart if we try to renegotiate it now,” he added.


Mayor Berry then made a motion to amend the new agreement by adding that Mr. Thornbury be classified as the director of the public works department, based on comments from the vice mayor. Mr. Thornbury indicated that was unacceptable, after which the mayor again withdrew her motion.


Comments made at the meeting during the citizens participation include:

  • Some on the board want to make rules to benefit themselves.

  • In agreement with the vice mayor, the speaker said Mr. Thornbury should be asked to work for a daily rate.

  • With elections, things change and employees might leave. It was his decision to retire. He does not want to work for you.

  • You should consider changes that have occurred since the November election. Since then City Recorder Ruthie Rohen, a 33-year employee, Fire Chief Mark Matthews, a 45-year employee and City Manager Tim Thornbury, a 35-year employee have all left.

  • This process has been drawn out and has had a lot of theatrics, there needs to be a resolution and it should be done respectfully, and efficiently. You cannot bring in a new person and expect them to know what is going on. A new employee does not replace experience.

  • Thanks was given to Attorney Mark Litchford for his guidance and expertise during this procedure.

  • Why is an hourly wage not under discussion?

  • The amount of disrespect during the process has shown distain for all these people. Where is the compromise?

Commissioner Pete Phillips made the motion that was seconded by Commissioner Ed Lecompte, to accept the amended agreement approved by Thornbury, Litchford, and Elliott. The motion passed to accept the contract came from Commissioners Phillips, Jeno and Lecompte. Mayor Berry and Vice Mayor Dalton voted in opposition.

The search for a permanent city manager will be guided by MTAS, (Municipal Technical Advisory Services.)

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