Lawrence City Commission approves separation agreement to pay up to $126.8K to outgoing police chief, forgoing discussion
photo by: Screenshot, City of Lawrence YouTube stream
City of Lawrence staff offered no new information Tuesday night and there was no discussion before the Lawrence City Commission unanimously authorized a separation agreement with the chief of police that could reach close to $127,000.
Outgoing Lawrence Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. was not on screen as an attendee during the meeting, which was held in virtual format amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
City Manager Craig Owens announced Monday that Burns was leaving LPD to “pursue other opportunities,” and the city soon after added a formal separation agreement and waiver of claims to the commission’s meeting agenda materials.
Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon prior to the meeting, Commissioner Lisa Larsen told the Journal-World that she thought the commission and the public would learn more about the situation surrounding the police chief’s departure through the meeting.
The chief had been the subject of a vote by the Lawrence Police Officers Association in late January, in which 92 of 100 voting members said they did not have confidence in Burns to lead the police department. Acting on a tip, the Journal-World filed an open records request and received documentation of the vote, but union leaders have not explained the reason for the action.
photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo
The separation agreement includes nine months’ worth of salary for Burns in a lump sum of $106,805. The city has also agreed to pay him up to $10,000 should he incur losses when he sells his home, and up to $10,000 for moving expenses. All three amounts would be paid less taxes, deductions and withholdings. It also frees the city from any liability regarding Burns’ employment or resignation, simultaneously denying that any such liability exists.
“I always believe that the public has the right to know,” Larsen said before the meeting. “Part of my goal, anyway, is to be as transparent as legally possible, and I would never try to skirt that.”
Larsen also said that the separation had been in discussions for “several months, and this (agreement) just seemed to be the most amenable to all the parties.”
Though Larsen did ask City Attorney Toni Wheeler to go over the specifics of the separation agreement, no new information was brought to light publicly.
“If there are questions regarding the end of this relationship, we will stick to the agreed-upon statement,” Wheeler told the commission.
There was no further discussion after Wheeler read through the numbers and various stipulations in the agreement, about which the Journal-World had reported on Monday, and no public comment on the matter. A glitch in the YouTube stream of the meeting caused a brief portion to be obscured, but city spokesman Porter Arneill confirmed to the Journal-World that no discussion was missed because of the technical issue.
Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei motioned to approve the agreement. Commissioner Stuart Boley seconded, after a pause, and it passed unanimously.
Finkeldei, an attorney, told the Journal-World before the meeting that nothing in the agreement with Burns gives him concern. He said he didn’t know what was in the minds of the LPOA members in their vote of no confidence, but he said he believed Owens had been working with Burns toward a mutual decision and that he was comfortable with the process.
“The city manager is proposing that we accept his agreement that he and the chief are jointly proposing, and I support the city manager and the chief in that agreement,” Finkeldei told the Journal-World. “I don’t know what else there is to say.”
Asked earlier in the day whether she was comfortable with the way the situation had transpired, Larsen said she hoped to hear more “tonight and possibly in the coming days as to everything that went on, so I’d reserve any comment until I hear the whole story.” She also said that “the process is being followed in accordance with what I believe to be our standards.”
Larsen did not answer a phone call after the meeting, and the Journal-World was unable to leave a voicemail message. Mayor Jennifer Ananda and Commissioners Boley and Courtney Shipley did not return phone messages from the Journal-World Tuesday.
Capt. Anthony Brixius, a nearly 17-year veteran of the department, was appointed interim chief on Monday.
Burns has not responded to the Journal-World’s email seeking comment, though Wheeler said during the meeting that he would be available for telecommunications before his resignation officially goes into effect June 12.
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