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Contract clause prompts discussion MORE INFO

November 20, 2007 12:35 am


Is support for County Administrator Randy Wheeler waning on the Board of Supervisors?

Supervisors questioned for this article say it is not.

And their split vote Nov. 13 to remove a clause from Wheeler's contract that makes him an exclusive employee wasn't a reflection on his performance, they said.

Wheeler wants the clause removed because it prohibits him from seeking or inquiring about a new job unless he tells supervisors first.

"The purpose of that provision is for stability," said Supervisor Gary Jackson in an interview. "We want stability."

During the Nov. 13 county board meeting, Wheeler told supervisors that he isn't seeking a new job, never has. But the clause in his contract is rare, he said. Wheeler, who was hired in December 2003, said he requested the change this summer when supervisors discussed his performance. Wheeler's entire compensation package rose 21 percent in July, and he is paid a base salary of $173,265.

J.H. Verkerke, professor of law at the University of Virginia, said the clause "is extremely unusual in the domain of employment contracts."

Neil Martin, a Houston attorney with 37 years of experience in labor and employment law, said he has seen such clauses for employees with special skills, such as pro athletes, medical providers and artists.

"It is very unusual for a county administrator to have such an agreement, but I guess he didn't find it very offensive when he signed it," he said.

Supervisor Vince Onorato brought the issue to the public spotlight when he asked his colleagues during the Nov. 13 meeting to remove the clause. He said it's unfair to Wheeler that he could be fired with just four votes on any given night.

"I am not saying there is writing on the wall, but I have witnessed here where county staff get crucified for doing what they were hired to do," Onorato said at the meeting.

Wheeler said in an interview that he did not ask Onorato to make the request on his behalf.

Supervisor Hap Connors left the board room during the discussion. The vote to change Wheeler's contract died on a tie 3-3 vote.

"I got nauseous listening to that from someone guilty of abusing staff himself," Connors said during a break of the meeting. "I voted for the contract. I voted to keep it in. I saw no reason to revisit the contract."

Onorato said county staff shouldn't be pressured by supervisors or the development community "wanting to speed things along in a recession." Onorato said some developers have complained about the Planning Department, which continues to have high turnover compared with other county departments.

Yakabouski said he doesn't think Wheeler's job is in jeopardy.

"I don't think you go out and increase someone's pays like we did, take the public hit for it, and then go out and fire him," he said.

Dan Telvock: 540/374-5438

What the contract says "Employee agrees to remain the exclusive employee of the County until June 30, 2009, and not to seek employment by any other employer until said termination date, unless said termination date is effected as hereinafter provided." How they voted Supervisors Emmitt Marshall, Jerry Logan and Gary Jackson voted against changing the contract. Supervisors Chris Yakabouski, T.C. Waddy and Vince Onorato voted to change the contract. Supervisor Hap Connors left the board room during the discussion and vote. The vote tied 3-3, which kills the proposal.

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