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Belfair Water District approves new manager contract

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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The Belfair Water District Board of Commissioners voted, with a 2-to-1 majority, to amend the contract for District Manager David Tipton, allowing him three-year severance pay and a 1.5 percent annual raise, at the district's regular meeting on Tuesday.

The majority of the meeting took place in Tipton's office, following a dispute between commissioners during the manager's report and subsequent interruptions from the public.

The quarrels began after Commissioner Mike Pope questioned whether the district would appeal a state Department of Labor & Industries violation submitted by former employee Gerard Fitzpatrick.

The state fined the district $1,200 for violating safety standards during construction work (see article in this week's Belfair Herald), and Pope asked why the district would endanger workers' lives.

"Safety is absolutely of utmost importance," Pope said, while Commission Chair John Phillips said he thought Fitzpatrick's entire claim was "staged."

The meeting quickly unraveled, and the commissioners reconvened about 10 minutes later in Tipton's office, where the only people in attendance were the commissioners, Tipton, the district secretary and the press.

During new business, the board approved the purchase of wood and a $75 registration into the Washington Association of Public Records Officers for its Public Records Officer Stacie Mar-rocco.

The board also voted to hire TNT Excavating to do the work for side sewer connection into the new Belfair sewer system, for $8,552.27. Pope objected to the vote because the job had not been advertised and put out to bid.

"It's my opinion that we consider this bid, [but] I'm not opposed to Mr. Pope's suggestion," Tipton said.

Phillips argued that soliciting more bids would be time-consuming and said that time was Tipton's "stock and trade."

Pope made a motion to advertise for bids and make a final decision in September, but his motion died for lack of a second, and Phillips made a motion to accept TNT Excavating as the contractor, which Commissioner Harry Hatlem seconded and which passed with a 2-to-l majority.

The board also voted to make changes to its wage and salary schedule for its employees, in order to make the wages competitive with those in other districts, Phillips said.

The changes amounted to about a 40-cent increase for one office clerk position, with the varied increases depending on how long the workers had been under employment. The salary schedule called for a $1.57 increase for the water distribution lead worker under the first salary step.

"The only person who makes a decent living here is me," said Tipton, advocating for the wage increases. "They are all underpaid."

After about a 20-minute executive session, the board then approved a new contract for the district manager.

Under his new contract, Tipton will be compensated for three days' pay for any regular or special board meeting that occurs after 2 p.m. or is still in session after 4 p.m. and he is not required to attend any meetings or work on Saturday or Sunday, absent a major emergency.

Tipton's annual salary is $72,070 and will increase by a minimum of 1.5 percent each year, under the new contract, and he is entitled to a severance pay equivalent to three years' pay in the event that he is fired.

The severance pay must be payable in one lump sum within five days of his notice of termination, and his notice of termination must be made 120 days in advance and with written notification.

Tipton's severance pay includes all benefits and he is entitled to payment for all accrued vacation and sick leave up until his termination. There is no limit to the number of hours and sick leave he can collect.

In the event that Tipton voluntarily leaves, he is entitled to a severance of two years' pay and must give written notice no less than 30 days in advance.

Other amended items in the contract include allowing Tipton's dogs access to the building and disallowing anyone from entering Tipton's office without his consent and presence.

Tipton is also entitled to an annual performance review by the commissioners each October, and if the commissioners fail to do so, he is entitled to a $5,000 performance bonus payable on November 1 for every year of his contract.

Pope said he felt the contract was "morally wrong" and a "sweetheart deal" for Tipton that took away the rights of the commissioners.

"I'm trying to salvage this water district," he said. "That contract right there could bankrupt the district."

Phillips said that the contracts' amendments were made in response to Pope's aggressive actions toward Tipton and the staff.

"It's the Board of Commissioners view that [the contract is] the best for the customers of the Belfair Water District and to protect the manager from political retaliation," Phillips said.

The board voted, with a 2-to-l majority, to approve the amended con tract.

Copyright 2011 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: August 11, 2011

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