MATTOON — The City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to end City Administrator Sue McLaughlin’s contract “without cause,” which means she walks away with a severance package worth an estimated almost $50,000.
Mayor Tim Gover and council members Bob Becker, Randy Ervin and Rick Hall voted to terminate McLaughlin’s contract effective immediately and council member Chris Rankin voted against this motion. Becker and Ervin placed the termination proposal on the agenda due to “the proposed land sale at Lake Mattoon.”
McLaughlin has faced criticism within the community for the offer by her fiance, Don Rodewald of Effingham, to purchase 4.7 acres at Lake Mattoon for about $41,000. The proposal was placed on the May 15 council agenda and then removed before the meeting took place.
“I do believe she showed some very poor judgment, but I don’t believe it rises to the level of termination,” Rankin said.
Rankin said he believes that McLaughlin should have at least been allowed to continue serving as city administrator through the May 7, 2013, expiration date of her contract. He said the city cannot afford to pay for her severance package while also incurring the cost of searching for and ultimately hiring a new city administrator.
Becker and Ervin’s original motion called for McLaughlin’s contract to be terminated “with cause,” which would have made her inelligible for severance pay equivalent to the value of six months’ salary. Her salary was $99,806 per year. The motion was amended to termination “without cause” at the close of Tuesday’s meeting.
Ervin said allowing McLaughlin to keep her severance package will upset some in the community, but it will enable the city to reach a resolution to this issue and be able to move forward. He said the council took time to researching its options during the last month and consulted with labor attorneys.
Regarding the proposed land sale, Ervin said he spoke with McLaughlin a few weeks before the May 15 meeting and she described the property as being a small parcel comparable to other parcels that the city has sold at Lake Mattoon. Ervin said he expressed his opposition to the sale as soon as he found out it was large, coveted property.
“I do believe there was some misrepresentation there or at least a misunderstanding,” Ervin said.
McLaughlin was represented during the closed session Tuesday evening by attorney Tim Hoppa of Naperville. The council went into closed session at 6:50 p.m. and emerged at 9:30 p.m. About 40 people attended the meeting at the beginning.
After the council voted to terminate the contract, Hoppa said in regard to Ervin’s comments that there was miscommunication between McLaughlin and council members regarding the proposed land sale. Hoppa said Gover and two other council members were aware of the proposal before it was placed on the agenda.
Hoppa said McLaughlin has not done anything wrong and she has become the victim of a “personality split” between her and at least one of the council members. He said political issues often bring an early end to the tenures of top city administrators.