Council refuses two-year contract before settling on one-year extension.

The Augusta City Council had trouble resolving the issue of whether to extend the contract of the city manager Monday night.

After not one, but two 20-minute executive sessions to discuss Bill Keefer’s annual review, the council returned to open session.

After attempting unsuccessfully to negotiate the city manager’s contract in a public meeting, the governing body finally agreed to extend Bill Keefer’s contract for one year including a two percent merit pay increase.

After the two private sessions during which a good deal of the communication rose to levels that could be heard through the adjoining walls separating the council from the staff and audience members who remained in attendance throughout the entire meeting, Councilor Matt Childers made a motion to extend Keefer’s contract for employment for two years including the two percent merit pay increase. Mike Rawlings seconded the motion that failed 2-5 with Mike Martin, Matt Malone, Mike Huddleston, Sue Jones, and Mike Wallace voting against renewing the contract.

At that point, Wallace made a motion that attempted to amend the contract between Keefer and the city.

“I would make a motion that we approve a one-year contract with the deletion of the twelve-month severance pay clause,” Wallace said. Malone seconded that motion.

Childers interjected and asked for legal counsel from City Attorney David All.

“I am concerned that if we follow through with this motion that we may be forced to pay the twelve-month severance since we are taking benefits out of the contract,” Childers said.

The question was over a clause that protects the city manager from termination by paying his salary and medical insurance for a year should he be terminated or if his contract is not renewed. If Keefer chose to, he would be able to work as an “at will” employee. Keefer is the only city employee under contract.

“Perception is everything,” Wallace said. “And this appears to be an attempt to get rid of someone. This is not about getting rid of Bill (Keefer), the exclusion of the severance pay is good for the taxpayers in this city.”

The city manager made it clear that he was not willing to work in his current role without the protection of a contract and he did not think that negotiating his contract publicly was appropriate.

“This is my employment contract you are discussing and it should not be done in a public meeting,” Keefer said. “You can dismiss me on a whim. There is an election coming up and if things change on the council you can vote to fire me at any time even if I am doing all I am asked. That clause is there to protect me.”

Huddleston asked Keefer what protected the city’s other employees that don’t have contracts.

“We don’t terminate people on a whim,” Keefer said.

“Why would you think this council would do that?” Huddleston asked.

At that point, Wallace made a new motion with no attempt to modify the contract.

Wallace made a motion to extend Keefer’s contract for one year “as written” including the two-percent merit pay increase. Rawlings seconded the motion.

Jones asked All to clarify what not renewing the contract – which expired Monday night at midnight - would mean.

“If you don’t renew the contract and the city manager is willing to work without a contract, he could,” All said. “If he wasn’t willing to, you would allow the contract to expire and pay the severance.”

At that point, Mayor Kristey Williams called for a vote on the motion to extend the contract. It passed 5-2 with Huddleston and Martin voting against renewing the contract.

As soon as the motion passed, the council adjourned the meeting.