The El Dorado City Council denied Thursday one of two requests by the former general manager of the city’s water utilities, agreeing that the second request is entangled in a layer of issues that will have to be unpacked in a special meeting to be scheduled later.
Following an executive session, aldermen unanimously turned down a proposal by Mark Smith, former general manager of the EWU, to remain in an advisory/consultant position with the utilities for the next 10 months.
Smith resigned from the EWU in July after the council voted to disband the former El Dorado Water and Sewer Commission and move EWU operations under the oversight of the Department of Public Works, which is headed up by Robert Edmonds..
Smith had worked in the position just over four years when he stepped down.
He subsequently asked that a $25,000 severance package be paid out over the next 10 months as he served in an advisory role, allowing him time to meet the minimum requirement of five years to be eligible for benefits from the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System.
The $25,000 would cover four months of Smith’s salary as EWU general manager.
Edmonds said the council should also address questions about payroll and compensatory time before considering a severance package for Smith.
The scene unfolded at 5 p.m. Thursday when the council convened for the special meeting, which was just prior to a regular council meeting, to discuss the pair of issues.
Mayor Frank Hash immediately asked for a motion to go into executive session.
City Attorney Henry Kinslow guided the council in sorting out which matters could be discussed in executive session.
Kinslow explained that aldermen could close the open meeting to consider Smith’s request for continued employment with the EWU for 10 months, but the discussion about the severance package would have to be handled in open session.
The executive session lasted approximately 20 minutes, after which aldermen went back into regular session and unanimously voted against Smith’s proposal to serve in an advisory role to assist with ongoing EWU projects and issues.
Questions then arose about the circumstances surrounding Smith’s resignation and the offer of the $25,000 severance package.
Hash said Smith stepped down due to a “substantial gentlemen’s disagreement.”
Smith and Edmonds have said that Smith was summoned to Edmonds’ office on July 18, the day after the council dissolved the water and sewer commission.
“Mr. Smith did not believe that he could work under the current situation,” Hash said Thursday.
Smith said he and Edmonds mutually agreed that the arrangement would not likely work out.
Both said Smith asked to be paid for compensatory time, vacation and sick leave.
Smith said Edmonds told him that he could not be paid for sick leave, but pay was approved for accrued comp and vacation time.
“That’s standard policy for when someone resigns from the water utilities,” Edmonds told aldermen Thursday.
Alderman Billy Blann asked if Smith’s resignation is documented in his employee file at the water utilities.
Smith said a similar question had been asked during the executive session, and he admitted that he did not sign a separation agreement or submit a formal resignation letter.
Alderman Willie McGhee requested a written statement documenting the amount Smith was paid for compensatory and vacation time.
Smith later explained that he met with Edmonds on July 20, noting Hash attended the second meeting.
It was at that time he inquired about the advisory position, Smith said. It was also then that he said Edmonds offered the $25,000 severance package.
“He is the person who volunteered it. That idea did not come from me. As I recall it, he said, ‘This is what I can offer you,’” Smith said.
When Smith pressed aldermen about the severance package during the special meeting on Thursday, Hash and Edmonds said the package was merely a point of a discussion on July 20, not a promise.
“We said we would entertain it. I don’t have the authority to do that. You would have to ratify any changes,” Edmonds told city officials.
Added Hash, “The council would have to approve it. I can’t approve it. Robert Edmonds can’t approve it.”
Smith asked the city council to approve the payout.
Hash said the council could not immediately take such an action and that the matter would have to be sorted out further, possibly during another specially called meeting.
“We had the discussion on July 20, Mayor. It’s been seven weeks now,” Smith responded.
Edmonds said the council will also need to look into other payroll issues, including questions about accrued compensatory time and overtime payments for a city department head, relating to Smith’s employment with the EWU.
Tia Lyons can be reached at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.