HUTTO, TX (KXAN) – With less than a month left in office, the city has ordered an investigation into allegations involving Hutto City Manager Odis Jones. The investigation is expected to start some time in early 2020.
City council voted 6 to 1 during the Dec. 5 public meeting to hire an investigator who doesn’t work for the city to conduct the investigation.
The lone vote against the measure came from Hutto Mayor Pro-tem Tom Hines.
The city’s hired attorney, Michael Shaunessy, called the investigation a “complete review” that would examine the “policies, procedures and operations” of Jones’ administration of the city. Jones took over the city manager’s post in December 2016.
The city council did not disclose the details of the allegations involving Jones but spent nearly two hours in executive session for “consultation with attorney regarding threat of litigation” and for “deliberations regarding personnel matters” regarding Jones.
Jones was not allowed into city council’s closed-door deliberations.
An Austin attorney went into the closed-door meeting with city council Thursday night. Joanna Lippman Salinas, a “managing partner” with the Fletcher Farley law firm, walked into the executive session with a folder full of paperwork and left city hall carrying the same folder.
Salinas’ law firm biography describes her services for clients “facing a lawsuit or potential claim.” Her biography also lists “Public Entity Defense” as one of her practice areas and that she “handles a wide variety of defense litigation matters.”
“My intent is, with rumors and allegations going on, if a person didn’t do anything I want them cleared,” Councilman Mike Snyder said during debate over the matter.
Snyder was the subject of allegations earlier this year and the city hired an outside investigator to look into allegations that Snyder was “interfering” with the day-to-day operations of the city. Snyder was cleared of any wrongdoing.
“Because, me having to go through that, if feels good to be cleared. The reason I’d like to do a third party is because a person cleared of a third party into just how the office is run provides a lot of support for somebody rather than self-investigation,” Snyder said.
“It sounds like what you’re wanting to do is just remove any doubt that there’s anything untoward, any doubt there’s anything going on and completely say that everything is fine or not fine,” Councilman Peter Gordon asked Snyder during the meeting.
“Yes,” Snyder replied.
On Nov. 22, council and Jones agreed to end Jones’s tenure as city manager effective Dec. 31, 2019. The termination is “without cause,” which means the city must pay Jones a year salary plus full health insurance coverage through Dec. 31, 2020.
After Dec. 31, Jones will not have to work to earn that salary because his employment contract obligated the city to continue paying Jones if he’s let go for “no cause.” Jones will no longer hold office after Dec. 31.
Mayor Doug Gaul and Jones signed Jones’s employment contract July 20, 2018. The city also paid Jones $700 each month in a vehicle allowance, according to the contract.
The Nov. 22 separation agreement will cost taxpayers at least $388,400, which includes Jones’s base salary and a $15,000 monthly consulting payment Jones and Mayor Gaul signed. These amounts do not include any unpaid vacation, sick time and health insurance coverage owed to Jones. The $15,000 a month consulting agreement between Jones and the city ends July 31, 2020.
City council approved both Jones’s separation agreement and consulting contract last month.
The external investigation won’t begin until the city hires an interim city manager. Thursday night’s vote made the investigation the first task assigned to the person who will replace Jones temporarily while the city goes through the process of hiring Jones’ permanent replacement.
Council directed Mayor Gaul to contact the Texas Municipal Association for candidates to fill the interim city manager’s spot. The association has a list of retired city administrators who serve in interim roles for cities across Texas. The city expects the search for a permanent city manager to last into the spring of 2020.
The meeting agenda afforded Jones the opportunity to respond and make his final comments as city manager. Jones declined to make any comments, telling council he’s “deferring” comment to the Dec. 19 meeting.
Jones did not respond to a message from KXAN asking for comment on council’s vote to investigate his administration of the city.