Ken Thomas signed an executive severance agreement when hired as Kent Police chief in 2011 that stated he has an “at will” position that “may be terminated at any time by the mayor with or without cause.”
First-year Mayor Dana Ralph unexpectedly on May 8 promoted Assistant Chief Rafael Padilla to replace Thomas. The city of Des Moines hired Thomas as chief a week later. Ralph called it a “mutual decision.”
The agreement also included a lump sum payment of six months salary as long as Thomas signed a waiver of claims between himself and the city the day his job ended. Thomas received a severance package of $163,736 before taxes that included vacation and other payments, according to the City Finance Department.
The city of Kent has executive severance agreements with its chief administrative officer and its department directors, according to an email from Derek Matheson, city chief administrative officer.
“The agreements themselves and the six-months salary provision aren’t uncommon,” Matheson said when asked if other cities use similar contracts.
Kent made a severance payment of $110,343 earlier this year to Ben Wolters, former city economic and community development director, after Ralph replaced him with deputy director Kurt Hanson. Wolters is still looking for a new job, according to his Facebook page.
The two severance payments combined to Thomas and Wolters cost the city $274,080.
Ralph is in her first year as mayor after elected by voters over Jim Berrios last year. She replaced Suzette Cooke, who served 12 years. Cooke promoted Thomas to chief in 2011 after a nationwide search and hired Wolters in 2006.
The city puts the six-months salary provision in the contracts to remain competitive in the recruitment of talented employees in director positions, according to the executive severance agreement for Thomas obtained by the Kent Reporter through a public disclosure request.
“(The) city recognizes the need to provide some level of security in employment in director positions,” according to the agreement. “Consideration exists in the financial benefit and peace of mind for employees and the financial benefit of the attraction and retention of talented employees and the waiver of any claims for the city.”
The language in the contract also states:
“Nothing in the agreement or city policy shall prevent, limit or otherwise interfere with the right of the mayor to terminate the services of employee with or without cause.”
Kent’s only exceptions to paying severance packages is if the employee voluntarily resigns, which means “a resignation in lieu of or under threat of termination, or a resignation of employment resulting from the free choice of the employee.”
The other exception is if the employee is fired for misconduct, which could include fraud, deceit, theft, assault, sexual or racial harassment and other types of wrongdoing.
The agreement showed Thomas and then-Mayor Cooke signed the contract on Aug. 16, 2016. Matheson said department heads sometimes do have to fill out new forms.
“We occasionally update the agreements for the whole group — often when we hire a new director and the city attorney reviews and updates the template — which is why Ken’s agreement is dated several years after he began his tenure as chief,” Matheson said.
City severance payments
Ben Wolters (former
Regular pay: $6,962.00
Severance pay: $83,544.00
Vacation payoff: $9,094.96
Personal holiday payoff:
Management benefit cashout:
Management leave payoff:
• Total gross pay: $110,343.90
Ken Thomas (former police
Regular pay: $5,263.96
Severance pay: $90,779.00
Vacation payoff: $25,052.16
Sick leave payoff at 40%:
Management benefit cashout:
• Total gross pay: $163,736.56
• Before taxes and deductions
Total payout: $274,080.46
Source: City of Kent