Trend of buying out contracts is just too costly

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The Auburn Journal headline this week screamed, “Buyouts pay execs to leave.” The accompanying article by reporter Gus Thomson detailed how local elected officials handed out close to $1 million of taxpayers’ money to pay four top executives to quit working. Our government — local, national and federal — faces huge budget deficits and debt. Solving our spending problem should start at home. This month the Fair Political Practices Commission issued a ruling saying that after four years, they found no wrongdoing on the part of former Sierra College President Kevin Ramirez. Untrue and unfounded allegations made by Trustee Aaron Klein led to Ramirez’s buyout. That buyout and related expenses cost taxpayers upward of $620,000, according to information provided by the college to the Placer County grand jury. It is a sad joke on taxpayers that Klein portrayed himself as a fiscal conservative, but his ill-advised actions led to shoveling up a wheelbarrow full of taxpayers’ money so that an award-winning college president could go on a permanent vacation. If there is a legitimate cause to fire a CEO, city manager, superintendent or college president, then by all means, fire for cause. But don’t give away truckloads of taxpayers’ cash because your political agenda might differ slightly from those with whom you are contractually obligated to work. Sierra College is far from alone, however. The city of Roseville just bought out Craig Robinson’s contract for $390,000. Councilwoman Paula Roccucci cited a lack of communication between the council and city manager as justification for termination. “It comes to a point where it’s more controlling and manipulative than just a strong manager,” she told reporter Megan Wood. Other council members disagreed, 4-1. Rather than doing their jobs and working with the city manager they hired, or firing for cause, they punted and paid. Using that logic, when the council fails at managing the manager it hired, the taxpayer must pay and pay big. The seemingly unmanageable manager then hits the proverbial lottery. All at taxpayer expense. What a crazy and messed-up system. Neither the manager nor the council takes personal responsibility for the failure that costs taxpayers a bundle. What is even more hypocritical are the press releases or sound bites that some boards give after a payoff. After buying out Superintendent-Principal Jon Ray’s contract, for upward of $70,000, Colfax Elementary School attorney Scot Yarnell was ready with a comment. “The board continues to believe that Mr. Ray is and has been an outstanding employee,” Yarnell told Colfax Record Editor Gloria Beverage. If that were true, why wouldn’t each and every board member stand up behind the embattled superintendent and fight to keep him? Perhaps they are giving Colfax schoolchildren a lesson: Don’t stand up for what’s right. Instead, do what costs the least and is politically expedient? If, on the other hand, the board believes there has been some wrongdoing and unethical behavior, it’s complete hypocrisy to say the departing leader was truly an outstanding employee. Of course the easiest thing for elected officials and CEOs to do is blame the media. Taxpayers’ money, we’re giving it away, and it’s the media’s fault for reporting on this … Buyouts, bailouts, huge checks awarded for not working nor fulfilling your contract — it’s business as usual here in Placer County. But there is a breaking point for taxpayers. And if we’re not there yet, we’re close.