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Spokane Valley to pay fired city manager $411,000 as part of settlement

Just after he was fired by the Spokane Valley City Council, City Manager Mike Jackson accepts the condolences of citizens and city staff after the city council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Just after he was fired by the Spokane Valley City Council, City Manager Mike Jackson accepts the condolences of citizens and city staff after the city council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

After two months of negotiations and the resignation of two councilmen, the Spokane Valley City Council unanimously approved a $411,115.66 settlement Tuesday with fired City Manager Mike Jackson.

Jackson was asked to resign at a contentious Feb. 23 council meeting despite the protests of a dozen Spokane Valley residents and Councilmen Dean Grafos, Chuck Hafner and Bill Gothmann. Jackson refused to resign and was placed on administrative leave, which meant the council had to fire him.

Grafos and Hafner recently resigned, in part to protest how Jackson’s firing was handled.

Tuesday evening, City Attorney Cary Driskell read a brief statement saying there had been ongoing negotiations between the city and Jackson since early March and the parties had agreed to a mediated settlement.

Driskell said it’s still to be determined if Jackson is due another approximately $40,000 in accrued sick pay.

Jackson could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Mark Calhoun, deputy city manager, has taken over the day-to-day leadership of Spokane Valley.

Jackson’s attorney, Milt Rowland, said the settlement matches termination conditions outlined in Jackson’s contract.

“Because the firing was out of the blue and with no warning, we found that Mr. Jackson should be treated appropriately,” Rowland said.

The settlement is equal to one year with full pay and benefits, plus half a year with pay only. Jackson also has been paid full salary and benefits for March and April, which amounts to $29,308.76.

Spokane Valley hired an outside attorney to deal with mediation and settlement negotiations, and Gothmann said the city may have to pay part of the mediator’s bill. These costs have yet to be determined, he said.

“This is the best alternative by far,” Gothmann said, during a break in the council meeting. “If we hadn’t reached an agreement, we could have been sued.”

Hired as parks and recreation director in 2003 when Spokane Valley incorporated, Jackson was promoted to deputy city manager in 2007. He became acting city manager in January 2010 and took the job as city manager in August of that year.

At the time of his firing, Jackson said Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard and Mayor Rod Higgins told him the Friday prior to the Feb. 23 council meeting that he would be fired, leading some to accuse the council of violating state laws requiring government meetings be open to the public.

Higgins disputes allegations that any open meetings laws were broken.

Grafos and Hafner called for an independent investigation into alleged violations but couldn’t get support from the council.

The settlement agreement effectively muzzles Jackson: He is not allowed to make “any negative, derogatory or disparaging comments … about the city or its elected officials, council members, officers, directors, employees or agents, in any way, now or in the future.”

Rowland said he was happy the city decided to negotiate instead of just slamming the door behind Jackson.

There were few public comments before the council made its decision.

Those who thought the settlement was too much money and those who thought it wasn’t enough all had the same question summarized by Spokane Valley resident Mike Stout: “Why was he let go? No one has been able to provide me with an answer for that question.”

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