May 9, 2013 | Vol. 39, No. 19

TBPA Commission refuses Southland's severance

WRANGELL — The Thomas Bay Power Authority commissioners met in executive session on Friday, May 3 to discuss the issue of former TBPA general manager Paul Southland’s severance package.

In a 5-1 vote, with commissioner Warren Edgely voting to pay Southland and member Dave Galla abstaining, the group decided to reverse course on a memorandum directing the city to provide a post-termination severance package.

Southland was terminated by the commission late last month in a 5-2 vote, with commission president John Jensen and commissioner Robert Larson voting against the firing.

After his termination, Galla sent a memo to Borough finance director Jeff Jabusch instructing the city to pay Southland his April salary and three months of severance pay. Southland’s 2012 employment contract stated that he was entitled to three months of salary as a lump sum payment if terminated without cause.

The April 26 decision to terminate Southland came after a motion by Galla. In the memorandum codifying the decision, no statement of cause was made.

Clay Hammer, Wrangell’s Light and Power superintendent and member of the commission said he voted against the severance package because Southland was not actually terminated, but given two days paid time off at the end of his contract.

“Severance, as I understand it, is to provide some protection for the employee in the event that their contract is shortened and ended before it goes to term,” Hammer said. “Southland was being paid to the end of his term. He had a 12-month contract and was being paid for 12 months. The language, when we released him two working days before the end of his contract, was just that; we simply released him from any further obligation to Thomas Bay. He was still being paid in full to the end of his contract. That said, it’s really not fair to the ratepayers and the City of Wrangell to pay an additional three months of severance on top of the full 12 months of salary he was already receiving.”

During the executive session, attorney Mike Nash represented Southland, though he was not allowed into the closed portion of the meeting and was only privy to the decision not to pay the severance deal.

“Mr. Paul Southland has asked me to represent him at (the) special meeting of the Thomas Bay Power Authority meeting,” Nash wrote in an email to Jensen. “Mr. Southland himself is traveling out of state today. In order to prevent surprise, Mr. Southland wishes to state his position on several issues. Contrary to the wording in the announcement of the special meeting, Mr. Southland did not request that he be relieved of duties. The commission relieved him of his duties on its own initiative. Mr. Southland had no part in the Commission’s decision. Although he was at the meeting, the Commission’s action was entirely its own and took Mr. Southland by surprise.”

Nash then went on to state his opinion that the commission was dealing dishonestly with Southland in their handling of his severance pay.

“The decision made by the commission was a termination and not something else,” Nash added. “There are numerous indications that, on April 26th, the Commission terminated Mr. Southland. Within hours of the decision, Mr. Southland removed his belongings from the manager’s office and turned in his keys. The April 29th memo from the commission to Mr. Jabusch calls the action a ‘termination.’ The April 29th memo from the commission instructs Mr. Jabusch to pay out the severance package. An attempt to reclassify the Commission’s action as something other than a termination, after the fact, is dishonest and beneath the dignity of the Commission. I urge the Commission not to further complicate this affair by ‘clarifying’ its actions and attempting to rewrite history. Such an attempt would be further evidence of bad faith.”

During the meeting, Jensen also went on record asking for an agenda item at the next regular meeting that would examine whether a conflict of interest exists in TBPA’s contract with Sunrise Aviation.

Jensen did not respond to a request for an interview by deadline for this story. Galla, however, commented on his feelings about the move – and is wondering why his company is being singled out.

“This is a personal attack, pure and simple,” Galla said of the request. “I work for Sunrise and I believe Mr. Jensen is doing this as a retaliatory measure against me.”

The next meeting of the TBPA commissioners has not yet been determined.

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