Former Hutto City Manager sues city leaders for racial discrimination and breach of contract

Investigations

Hutto City Manager Odis Jones listens as a citizen criticizes his administration during a December 2019 council meeting. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

HUTTO, Texas (KXAN) — Former Hutto city manager Odis Jones has sued the City of Hutto, two city councilmembers and the current city manager for racial discrimination, alleging they have worked to “destroy” his “reputation, career, and livelihood,” according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal district court.

“City of Hutto, Council Member (Mike) Snyder, and Council Member (Tanner) Rose have taken unjust and racially driven actions to deny Mr. Jones his federally protected civil rights; to defame and disparage Mr. Jones; to tortiously interfere with his efforts to provide for his family; to breach the Employment Agreement and Separation Agreement that the City of Hutto negotiated, drafted, and lawfully entered into with Mr. Jones; and to intentionally inflict emotional distress upon Mr. Jones,” the lawsuit states.

Odis-1
Hutto City Manager Odis Jones sits and waits during a Dec. 5 executive session he was not allowed to participate in. Council met behind closed doors with an Austin attorney to discuss potential claims involving Jones. The city would not tell the public details of those allegations.

The lawsuit also specifically names City Manager Warren Hutmacher, who said the city would not comment on pending litigation. Hutmacher did not become city manager until nearly a year after Jones left office.

Jones’ lawsuit includes a Dec. 4, 2020 rescission letter signed by Hutmacher where Hutto makes an attempt to take back a $412,000 separation agreement Jones and the city agreed to in 2019.

Jones’ federal lawsuit is one piece of an ongoing struggle between Jones and certain councilmembers.

Jones was hired by Hutto in 2016. The lawsuit alleges Jones’ problems with city leadership began after Snyder and Rose were elected in May 2019. In July 2019, Jones said he reported possible instances of official oppression and violations of the city charter by Snyder and Rose to the city. Jones said Rose appeared to retaliate against him by requesting an item be placed on the council’s agenda the next month discuss Jones’ contract, including “possible action to reprimand, suspend, or terminate Mr. Jones as City Manager,” according to the lawsuit.

In a Nov. 16, 2019, council executive session, Jones said he suggested the city separate his employment, and “he was tired of the political and racist animus directed towards him,” the lawsuit says.

“Let me just say that, in the name of TRANSPARENCY, I am pleased to finally be able to share what has been going on with regards to Odis Jones and his employment with the City of Hutto. This all started with out with Mr. Jones not sharing sharing relevant information about the Perfect Game development and leading up to the events at the end of 2019.  It will be great to have present, the real story of Odis Jones, with him under oath in a federal courtroom. This lawsuit is filled with misleading factual allegations which create a fictional story based on the misrepresentations presented. Race was NEVER a consideration in ANY of our discussions or decisions, only the actions of Odis Jones when he was City Manger, in my opinion were threatening and abusive. Facts about Odis Jone’s time of employment at the City of Hutto will finally come to light and I look forward to our day in court.”

Mike Snyder City of Hutto Councilmember Place 3

On Nov. 21, the city presented a separation agreement that would end Jones’ tenure as city manager at the end of the year, and the separation would be noted as “termination without cause.” The agreement provided Jones with a severance of 12 months base salary, payment of accrued sick and unused vacation time, and health benefits for a year. On top of the separation agreement, the city also proposed a “consulting agreement” with Jones that would extend through July 31, 2020, according to the suit.

As city manager, Jones had an annual salary of $275,000, according to the lawsuit.

Hutto City Councilman Tanner Rose faced a potential sanction during the August 15, 2019 council meeting after filing an ethics complaint against a fellow council member. The city attorney accused Rose of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act by announcing the ethics complaint filing in public when it wasn’t placed on the meeting agenda as required by law.

The City Council approved the separation and consulting agreement last November. The lawsuit says the separation agreement included a “non-disparagement” provision, but Rose and Snyder violated that provision by, among other things, issuing a news release on Nov. 25, 2019, which said they were “appalled” by the council’s action and “amazed that there would be an action taken to pay out the City Manager without considering the conduct over the past 6 months as well as the ongoing investigation.”

Jones said an employee complaint against him resulted in two investigations neither of which could be substantiated. The lawsuit says certain city councilmembers were not satisfied with the outcome of the investigations, the separation agreement and the consulting contract. Those councilmembers sought to “to threaten to embarrass Mr. Jones publicly by threatening to leak information to the press and public regarding the employee’s claims” if Jones did not agree to change the terms of his separation, according to the lawsuit.

“As the councilmember representing the City of Hutto Place 6, I am excited to finally share the latest lawsuit filed against the City and myself by former City Manager Odis Jones. I will be able to share some of the events and things that have transpired from when I took my oath to represent the City of Hutto till now regarding the former City Manager and his employment with the City. Some of those things are the withholding of official city work documents from me all the way up to his conduct during his tenure as City Manager. I look forward to being under oath with Mr. Jones and finally getting to set the record straight publicly and sharing all of the events that took place. This lawsuit includes a multitude of inaccurate and misleading information that will be discredited with expedience. I look forward to continuing to represent the great citizens of the City of Hutto.”

Tanner Rose City of Hutto Councilman Place 6

It is not clear from the lawsuit what complaint the unnamed employee made against Jones. Jones said he was also contacted by a real estate developer involved in negotiations involving significant contracts with the city who said Snyder asked the developer to pay Jones’ severance payments out of the developer’s own development fees, the lawsuit states.

“The developer told Mr. Jones that he was being directly solicited by Council Member Snyder to pay Mr. Jones the severance payments that were owed to him under the Separation Agreement through the developer’s own development fees so that the City would not have to do so. The developer also stated that City Council Member Snyder told him that if Mr. Jones would go along with this scheme, then he could make the complaining employee’s embarrassing claims “go away,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit does not name the developer. Jones said he reported it to the Hutto Police Department, and the plaintiffs believe the investigation is ongoing, the lawsuit says.

Finally, on Dec. 3, the lawsuit says the Hutto City Council passed a resolution to void Jones’ separation agreement. Jones received a letter the following day demanding he return $412,000, which the city had paid him in January as part of the separation agreement, according to the suit.

The lawsuit says Jones listed racial discrimination, breach of contract, defamation, tortious interference in current contracts and prospective business relations and intentional infliction of emotional distress, as causes of action against the city and councilmembers.

KXAN asked for comment from Jones to be included in this report, but his attorney declined saying “We believe the Complaint speaks for itself,” Ted Smith wrote in an email.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Austin-Travis County

More Austin-Travis County News

More Investigations

More Investigations

Tracking the Coronavirus

Coronavirus Cases Tracker

Latest Central Texas COVID-19 Cases

More Coronavirus Live Blogs

Trending Stories

Don't Miss