Leachville Council reaches settlement agreement

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Leachville City Council reached a settlement agreement with former police chief Keith Evans during its regular meeting Sept. 15.

Evans retired from the Leachville Police Department last month and at that time some council members wanted to pay Evans the sick pay he had accumulated. However, there was a dispute as to whether Evans was entitled to the sick pay. While most of the council felt he was, they agreed to wait for the city attorney's opinion, which they received at Monday's meeting.

Leachville City Attorney Chris Jester said he initially thought the answer was a simple yes but after reading the statute completely and doing more research he found that no officer is entitled to sick pay unless they retire at retirement age or by death. Since Evans' service to the city was not ending by death and he is not 55, Jester said legally the city cannot give him sick pay. Evans did have his 20 years of service in to retire.

"Under the state statute no officer can get sick pay unless they are retirement age, die or have the full 28 years of service in," Jester said. "I was then asked if the council could make a city ordinance to pay Keith. The short answer is no. Then the question of precedents comes up. Because the city has done it wrong in the past does not mean you can keep doing it wrong. Keith does have a potential legal claim against the city."

Jester said the city council could choose to pay Evans a severance package or could agree to pay him a settlement and have Evans sign a release from any and all potential claims he has against the city. Jester said if Evans decided to pursue the sick pay in court it would cost the city a substantial amount. Jester said to prevent this from coming up again the police department will need a policy and procedures handbook with the sick pay policy clearly spelled out and new officers signing off on it showing they understand they will not get sick pay. He also said after the city settles with Evans they need to address the potential claims the remaining three officers could have if they decided to leave.

"I would like to settle here," Alderman Dave Wallace said. "We had a police chief that was loyal to us and was injured in the line of duty on a couple of occasions. Our community members thought a lot of him and I'm in no hurry to get in a lawsuit."

The rest of the council agreed. Jester explained the council could ask Evans what he would settle for, they could make an offer or they could go into executive session, decide on a number, offer it to Evans and if he agrees then Jester will draw up the paper work.

The council went into executive session and upon returning to open session offered Evans $11,100 to settle any and all potential claims against the city. Evans nodded his head in agreement and Jester said he would prepare the agreement and release to be sent to everyone at the same time at the beginning of next (this) week. The council again thanked Evans for his service to the city.

The council did vote unanimously to call it a settlement agreement and not a severance package. It was clarified later in the meeting that the issue didn't have to with Evans retirement but the city having to change the way it handles officers leaving because there had been a mistake when previous officers left.

In other business Chuck Brown, interim police chief, asked and got permission to hire a new part time police officer, reviewed the number of arrests as well as citations issued in the city and told the council there will be some upcoming training classes being held in Leachville.

The council also unanimously agreed to close two unused accounts, dedicate the city's 5 mills to maintenance and operation, reserve rooms from the January Municipal League meeting, and purchase a meg meter as well as a scale for the water department. Fall clean-up will be Sept. 27.

Before adjourning Alderman Wallace said on 7th Street there have been two families move in and now there are about 14 small children playing. He said there are children as young as two and three-years-old and there is the potential for a child to get hurt if someone comes speeding off the gravel road there and not see the children. The council unanimously passed a motion to establish a traffic plan for the area that will include slow children at play signs, speed limit signs and possibly a rumble strip when the new asphalt is laid on the street.

The council then gave city clerk Ruth Keith permission to attend two classes and to purchase a new recording device for the city.

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