Indeed, cementing that chapter of city history in the past appears to be the primary motivation behind the severance package given to Thiessen upon her exit.
According to the separation agreement, the city offered six months’ salary and health insurance payments ($80,000 and $9,930.18, respectively) “in consideration for Thiessen’s waivers and releases….”
Those releases include “any and all claims that she might possibly have against the city, whether she is aware of them or not.” In other words, Thiessen cannot sue the city of Tracy for any reason relating to her employment as the city’s top cop. When it comes to severance agreements, it’s pretty standard stuff.
Some might see that as paying for peace of mind in a litigious society. Others might call it a payoff.
Churchill said it was a smart business decision.
“The city gets the assurance knowing all potential claims have been surrendered,” he explained. “There were no concerns in this situation, but any severance agreement creates a specific benefit for both parties for a specific financial commitment without any lingering costs. It’s good business.”
In light of a comment Thiessen made in an interview with another media outlet after announcing her resignation — “I would say for some people, it is gender-related. There are still attitudes that some people do not want to see a woman in this position — that it’s difficult for them to take orders from a woman.” — heading off a potential discrimination suit might have been the prudent move.
In a theoretical lawsuit, even if the city were found in the right by the courts, such a case could easily cost the city north of $100,000, according to Bill Gorham, a respected civil attorney with Mayall, Hurley, Knutsen, Smith & Green in Stockton.
And that is if the city were able to defend itself. If such a suit against the city succeeded, the city would likely be liable for the plaintiff’s attorney fees as well as any award for damages. Which could be sizable, since we’re talking about a high-compensation employee like a police chief.
Essentially, the $90,000 is the price of eliminating that potential risk, and it’s a “reasonable” price, according to Gorham.
That’s the business calculus.
The moral calculus is a little hazier. Some in the community see the severance as an undeserved reward for quitting or for not doing a particularly good job. Or both.
Thiessen said she resigned for mostly personal reasons. But it’s also true that she resigned after serious concerns were raised about her ability to handle the internal goings on at the department.
My guess is that’s one reason Chief Gary Hampton was selected so quickly as a replacement: He knows Tracy, and he comes with a reputation as a straight-shooter who knows how to deal with the politics of a police department.
Churchill said this week that the severance was no off-the-cuff decision.
“The severance agreement was the result of numerous discussions, not the original
circumstances for Chief Thiessen’s departure from the city,” he said.
Read between the lines: It’s business calculus.
Churchill added that the language in the separation agreement saying Thiessen “enters into this agreement voluntarily” refers specifically to that compact.
He also assured that the decision to grant the package met both the spirit and the content of a May City Council decision that gave the city manager authority to offer such severance packages to department heads who involuntarily resign or are fired. Plus, the severance was signed and vetted by the city attorney.
Read again: This wasn’t a voluntary resignation.
So, is the protection from possible future lawsuits against a cash-strapped city worth paying a severance to a chief who, by many accounts, needed to leave anyway for the good of the city? It depends on your perspective.
In terms of eliminating possible risk, it makes sense from the city’s standpoint.
But from outside City Hall, it’s a truly bitter pill to swallow, whether the business calculus computes or not.
A queen of a pageant
Taking in the Bean Queen and Princess Pageant inside the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts this past Saturday, it struck me that every city should have its own pageant. At least, every city that wants to hold on to its small-town character.
The pageant, with the princess and queen candidates speaking, performing and generally lighting up the stage to unconditional applause, is a burst of Americana that fits our tight-knit roots to a “T.”
Plus, it’s a chance for the next generation of Tracy women — bright, engaging girls — to shine in front of parents, peers and perfect strangers.
“I think everybody who comes to these pageants is impressed by the caliber of these young ladies,” said pageant director Juana Dement.
I couldn’t agree more.
Rocking the block
While the girls shone inside the Grand, outside boasted the perfect complement to an idyllic Central Valley summer evening: a block party.
Underneath lights strung above the Central Avenue and Sixth Street lot, oldies rock played, classic cars gleamed and just enough libations flowed to keep the crowd dancing, talking and smiling. I visited during the intermission of the pageant, and I didn’t want to leave once I got there.
If you haven’t been to one of the events sponsored by the city, Chamber of Commerce and Tracy City Center Association, go. There are two parties left this summer. My advice is to gather some friends, grab a drink and get ready to dance.
Because, yes, there are fun things to do in Tracy.
• Second Thoughts is an opinion
column by Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.