Watauga council suspends city manager, plans to terminate his contract

Posted Friday, Jan. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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WATAUGA -- A public hearing will be held next month to determine if city leaders can terminate City Manager Scott Neils and his employment agreement.

The council voted 6-1 earlier this week to suspend Neils with pay pending the hearing's outcome, and appointed Fire Chief Bill Crawford acting city manager.

Neils said the council effectively fired him.

"Technically, I'm no longer the city manager of Watauga," he said.

Councilman Patrick Shelbourne voted against the motion. Mayor Harry Jeffries abstained.

Neils underwent previously scheduled hip-replacement surgery Tuesday and was unsure whether his condition would allow him to attend the hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 5. This is the second time in as many months that Neils has been charged with infractions that councilmen feel justify not only firing him, but also terminating his contract with the city.

"Basically we've put him on suspension pending a public hearing based on facts we've found and violations of our home-rule charter," Councilman Brandon Krausse told the Star-Telegram. "We're moving to terminate his employment and employment agreement with the city based on information we found out in an executive session."

Krausse was one of four council members who voted against firing Neils on Nov. 19, when Councilmen Mike Steele, Robert Davis and Russell Clements asked for the action. Krausse said he was very skeptical going into Monday's executive session, "but after looking at the information that was made available to us it quickly changed my mind. I believe wholeheartedly in this action given the information we've learned."

Krausse said he is saddened by the turn of events but supports the action and believes it's the best course for the citizens of Watauga.

"I liked Dr. Neils very much and still do," he said. "This is the best action we could have taken under the circumstances."

Shelbourne said that he wasn't prepared to take the action based on the information presented to council in the executive session.

"I needed more time to evaluate the situation," he said. "I haven't been totally convinced of everything and will make that decision as we go along."

Complaints against Neils include:

retaining special counsel without City Council approval;

approving salary increases for select employees without council approval;

violating state law for disposing of city property;

misleading the council about red-light camera issues;

misleading the council about employee salary increases;

creating a pattern of deceiving the council;

damaging employee morale;

threatening to embarrass two council members;

and not openly informing the governing body about pay adjustments.

After the Nov. 19 action to fire Neils failed, the city manager said he and council members needed to work out certain issues.

This time, Neils doesn't think trying to work things out would be worth the effort.

Neils said he believes he was spared in November because at least one council member "thought there were complications that would not allow them to deny me severance pay that's stipulated in my contract. Now they have nine totally different charges from the last time."

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

Twitter: @fwstevans

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