• Leader & Times
Liberal’s former city manager is claiming breach of contract and other charges in a lawsuit filed Friday against the City of Liberal.
“Mark D. Hall, by and through his attorneys Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard P.C., states the following for his claim and cause of action against (a) the City of Liberal; (b) the City of Liberal Board of Commissioners, (c) Connie Seigrist, in her official capacity as the Mayor of and city commissioner for Liberal (d) Taylor Harden, in his official capacity as Vice Mayor of and city commissioner for Liberal, (e) Jack Carlile, in his official capacity as city commissioner for Liberal, (f) Tony Martinez, in his official capacity as city commissioner for Liberal, and (g) Ron Warren, in his official capacity as city commissioner for Liberal,” court documents noted. “Hall began working as Liberal’s City Manager Oct. 1, 2006 pursuant to a two-year employment agreement dated Sept. 12, 2006. Hall’s employment agreement included provision for automatic extension every two years commencing Oct. 1, 2008. Liberal’s Board of Commissioners, which at the time included former Mayor Joe Denoyer, approved Hall’s 2006 employment agreement. Over the next 11 years, Hall continued worked as Liberal’s city manager. Hall always met or exceeded the city commissioners’ expectations during those 11 years as Liberal’s city manager. Hall’s two-year employment agreement was extended five times during those 11 years, including a two-year extension commencing Oct. 1, 2016.”
Work on the controversial contract began in the last part of 2017.
“In late August 2017, then-Mayor Denoyer contacted Liberal’s Human Resources Director Sheena Schmutz and asked Schmutz to approach Hall about drafting a new employment agreement with a five-year term and a severance package,” the court documents noted. “Mayor Denoyer also notified Vice Mayor Tony Martinez and city commissioners Dave Harrison and Dean Aragon regarding the Mayor’s request for a new five-year city manager employment agreement for Hall. In response to Schmutz’ request, Hall told Schmutz a five-year agreement was not a standard agreement for city managers but he would nevertheless research the existence of any five-year city manager employment agreements. After Hall completed his research, he informed Mayor Denoyer he was unable to find any five-year city manager employment agreements. Hall also informed Mayor Denoyer he could only find city manager employment agreements that contained two-year severance provisions. Mayor Denoyer then told Hall an employment agreement with a two-year severance provision was acceptable and asked Hall to prepare a new employment agreement for consideration in connection with Hall’s upcoming Oct. 10, 2017 performance evaluation. The two-year severance provision was similar to a provision contained in a verbal agreement with the Liberal Board of Commissioners made to another city manager candidate in 2006 before Hall was hired for the position.”
Hall then drafted a new proposed city manager employment agreement with assistance from outside parties and completed the work in Sept. 2017.
“Under Hall’s new proposed city manager employment agreement, the City of Liberal was obligated to pay Hall a $141,950 annual base salary and a $7,500 annual vehicle allowance,” the court documents noted. “Additionally, the City of Liberal was obligated to pay 9 percent of Hall’s base salary into a designated retirement plan for Hall’s benefit. The City of Liberal was also to provide for Hall’s and his dependents’ hospitalization, surgical and comprehensive medical insurance and provide up to $100,000 in term life insurance. Further, Hall’s new proposed city manager employment agreement entitled him to 20 days of vacation and 12 days of sick leave every year, and entitled him to carry over all previously unused vacation and sick leave to the following vacation and sick leave year without limit.”
Ultimately, the court documents noted, Hall’s scheduled performance evaluation at the Oct. 10, 2017 meeting was postponed to the commission’s Oct. 24, 2017 meeting due to then-commissioner Dean Aragon being unable to attend the first scheduled date. That meeting and ultimate vote would prove to fan the flames of controversy in the community.
“About one hour before the Oct. 24, 2017 meeting, Hall delivered two copies of his proposed city manager employment agreement to Liberal Human Resources Director Sheena Schmutz,” the court documents noted. “Hall commented to Schmutz the agreement was to be delivered to the commissioners in accordance with Mayor Denoyer’s instructions, the agreement contained standard ICMA wording with a two-year severance provision and the agreement was not a five-year contract like Mayor Denoyer originally requested. Schmutz delivered two copies of the agreement to the commissioners Oct. 24, 2017 for the commission’s consideration during the meeting’s executive session. During Hall’s performance evaluation, four commissioners indicated Hall’s overall management performance had exceeded expectations while the fifth city commissioner indicated Hall’s overall performance had met expectations.”
After the evaluation was completed and upon the commission’s return from executive session, the commission voted 4-1 to approve the updated contract, with Carlile voting no due to his feelings such a matter should be decided by the incoming new commissioners. The vote ultimately caused much controversy and at the first city commission meeting of 2018, the commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of terminating Hall’s contract and also voted 3-2 in favor of not paying Hall on his contract.
“Hall has not been convicted of any felony or other illegal act committed for his personal gain,” the court documents noted. “Hall has not breached any of the terms or provisions of his Oct. 24, 2017 employment agreement and it was therefore terminated for convenience. Hall was willing and able to perform his duties under the Oct. 24, 2017 employment agreement at the time the commissioners terminated the agreement Jan. 8, 2018. As a result, Hall became entitled to the severance benefits described in Sections 5, 6 and 13 of the Oct. 24, 2017 employment agreement at the time the commissioners terminated the agreement Jan. 8, 2018. The City of Liberal and the Board of Commissioners rejected Hall’s demand for the severance benefits he is rightfully owed and continue their refusal to pay the amounts Hall is rightfully owed under the terms and conditions of his Oct. 24, 2017 employment agreement. At all times since the Liberal Board of Commissioners terminated the Oct. 24, 2017 employment agreement for convenience, Hall has been and remains willing and able to perform his duties and obligations under the agreement. The City of Liberal, the Board of Commissioners, and Seigrist, Harden, Carlile, Martinez and Warren, in their capacities as Liberal City Commissioners, have breached their duties and obligations under the Oct. 24, 2017 employment agreement because they refuse to pay Hall what he is rightfully owed under the agreement, including the amounts owed pursuant to the two-year severance provision.”
The final part of the court documents then outline the damages Hall is seeking.
“Hall has been damaged as a result of breach by the City of Liberal, the Liberal Board of Commissioners and Commissioners Seigrist, Harden, Carlile, Martinez and Warren,” the court documents noted. “Hall’s damages include but are not limited to the following: $65,646 for the lump sum cash payment to which Hall is entitled and equal to Hall’s annual leave balance of 962 hours; $283,900 for the lump sum cash payment to which Hall is entitled and equal to 24 months of Hall’s annual base salary at the time he was terminated; $15,000 for the lump sum cash payment to which Hall is entitled and equal to 24 months of Hall’s vehicle allowance at the time he was terminated; and $25,551 for the lump sum cash payment to which Hall is entitled and equal to 24 months of contributions to Hall’s retirement account with the ICMA-retirement corporation. Hall has also been damaged in an as-yet-determined amount because he has been forced since Jan. 8, 2018 to obtain his own medical insurance, dental insurance and life insurance coverage despite the fact that the Oct. 24, 2017 employment agreement required the City of Liberal to provide these coverages to Hall for 24 full calendar months following the agreement’s termination for convenience. Hall will continue suffering damages in addition to those referenced herein in amounts that will be proven at trial if the City of Liberal, the Liberal Board of Commissioners and Commissioners Seigrist, Harden, Carlile, Martinez and Warren continue their refusal to pay the amounts to which Hall is entitled under the Oct. 24, 2017 employment agreement.”
The court documents then concluded with a final statement.
“Wherefore, Mark D. Hall prays for a judgement in his favor and against the City of Liberal, the Board of Commissioners, and against Connie Seigrist, Taylor Harden, Jack Carlile, Tony Martinez and Ron Warren in their official capacities as city commissioners for the City of Liberal for such sums as Hall is owed under the Oct. 24, 2017 employment agreement, for Hall’s costs incurred herein and for such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper in the premises.”
No court dates or similar information was available in the court documents.