I-Team digs into separation agreements in Flint - WNEM TV 5

I-Team digs into separation agreements in Flint

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FLINT, MI (WNEM) -

Accusations of sweetheart deals and wasteful spending has been brought to light in one of Mid-Michigan's largest local governments.

It comes as yet another black eye to a community trying to recover from one of the worst crises in Michigan history.

TV5 has obtained documents that appear to show evidence of cushy deals made between city officials who knew their time in office may be up. The deals were done without the approval of the mayor, despite rules in place requiring her signature.

Police are investigating whether criminal charges could be in order.

For more than two years the residents of Flint have been forced to pay for poisoned water they could not use.

Now TV5 has learned hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been available to help heal the water crisis by digging up lead service lines was flushed out in numerous severance packages for city employees that were either terminated of resigned.

Former city administrator Natasha Henderson is at the center of the latest allegations. In many ways she controlled the purse strings of the city.

She hired former Mayor Dayne Walling during the time the city had an emergency financial manager.

Henderson was let go on Feb. 12, 2016. The documents obtained by TV5 reveal Henderson's signature on nearly a dozen separation agreements totaling nearly $200,000.

The I-Team obtained the documents, which are dated after Mayor Karen Weaver took office but before she took full control back of the city. During that time, Henderson was still the city administrator and was reporting directly to the board overseeing Flint's finances.

As the documents show, there was a negotiated revised severance package dated Jan. 11 for the fire chief at the time, David Cox. According to the documents, if he was fired without cause he would receive $25,000 and $2,000 for years of service.

Cox was fired a month later, along with former police chief James Tolbert and Henderson.

As for Tolbert, his original contract called for a $25,000 termination agreement if he ever got fired. However, in the revised separation agreement obtained by the I-Team, the number jumped to $55,000.

Some allege this was a common practice for people closest to the former city administrator. According to the documents, when former legal counsel Peter Bade resigned on Dec. 3, 2015, he was rewarded a $25,000 sign off deal and $7,000 for years of service.

That document was dated Dec. 28, 2015 and signed by Henderson.

Since Feb. 12 the city paid out in excess of $119,000 to Bade, Cox and Tolbert. Money that some said could have been used to help the people coping with the water crisis. A crisis that is still plaguing the cash strapped city.

Also in the documents was an enhanced severance package for Howard Croft. He oversaw the city water department when the water crisis came to light. He resigned in the midst of the crisis.

He left Flint with a nearly $49,000 severance package, according to the documents. Neither Henderson nor Croft would comment for the I-Team's report.

The current administration did not uncover the violations until the former planning and development director tried to collect his $25,000 severance in January. That's when the alarms went off at City Hall.

TV5's attempts to reach out to Henderson lead to her attorney Katherine Kennedy. Kennedy has yet to reply to the allegations from City Hall.

The city is not talking about the embarrassment. However, the Flint Police Department is investigating into the matter to see if any possible criminal charges or other violations have been made.

"If you didn't know, you should have known. And that's directed toward the mayor. If she didn't know, she should have," said Wantwaz Davis, council member.

Flint City Council members are taking sides after the I-Team's report.

"Political appointees have lost their jobs for years when new administration comes in and they haven't really left with severance packages," said Eric Mays, council member. "I don't think that agreement had the proper sign-offs."

Davis questions how Weaver didn't know the city would be on the hook with the employees leaving.

"Now you cost the taxpayers $200,000. Irregardless of whose signature is on it, you're the chief administrator. And to say you didn't know," Davis said.

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