Another day, another lawsuit

Former economic director sues for unpaid wages; Council unaware of Beecher-signed severance

KINGMAN - The city of Kingman and City Manager Paul Beecher have been served their second lawsuit in six weeks, this time by a former employee suing for unpaid wages and benefits to exceed $82,000, not including attorney fees.

According to the suit, former Economic Development Director Jeff Weir is seeking $23,750 in severance pay, compensation for unused leave, benefits for himself and his wife through the end of January and "reasonable attorney's fees." Besides the latter, and unbeknownst to City Council, these provisions were to be awarded to Weir based on a severance agreement signed by Weir and Beecher, according to the written contract.

Weir has retained attorney Paul Lenkowsky of Bullhead City. In the notice of claim, Lenkowsky alleges that "[T]he city breached the contract by failing to tender payment to Mr. Weir after July 1st, 2007, under the terms of the agreement." July 1 was the first date of Weir's termination.

The lawsuit results from Council's vote on May 21 not to award Weir a severance, a decision made after Beecher and Weir signed the separation agreement for severance pay, according to a copy of the contract provided by Lenkowsky.

According to several Council members, the body as a whole was unaware that Beecher and Weir had signed a contract when they made the decision against awarding a severance package.

Weir is also seeking damages pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute 23-355, which allows employees to receive triple the salary amount originally agreed upon, bringing the total - for salary alone - to $71,250.

According to the notice of claim, Weir and Beecher executed the separation agreement following a 5-2 Council vote on May 7 to cut funding to Weir's department and eliminate his position. During that meeting, Finance Director Coral Loyd suggested that money be left in the 2007-08 budget for costs associated with terminating development programs.

"After reviewing that with a little bit more detail, we need to leave in about $34,742 into that program for the final costs of that program ... the final costs that will be associated with terminating those programs," Loyd told Council.

The "final costs that will be associated with terminating those programs" were understood two weeks later to be a severance package for Weir.

When the mayor and Council members discussed and eventually voted on the issue during their May 21 meeting, neither Beecher nor Weir informed Council that a severance agreement had already been signed.

"When we voted not to give him the severance, we didn't know about the agreement," said Councilman Kerry Deering, who cast one of the nay votes. "He didn't volunteer that information at the meeting, and the city manager didn't (either)."

Asked if Council members knew about the contract when they voted to kill the severance and whether they were aware he'd negotiated the agreement, Beecher wrote via e-mail, "No; no."

It is likely that the city's insurance company will hire an outside consultant to represent Beecher and the city on the suit, as it has with another pending lawsuit, however, City Attorney Carl Cooper could not confirm that.

"At this point I cannot comment on any pending issue regarding Jeff Weir," he wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

The other lawsuit currently pending was filed on behalf of local developer Travin Pennington, who is suing Beecher, City Clerk Debbie Francis and the city of Kingman as an agency for withholding public records. A firm representing the city has denied wrongful action in the non-disclosure of several thousand of Beecher's and Weir's e-mails. A court date has not been set.