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Phoenix city manager will vacate post a month early

PHOENIX — City Manager Jane Turner, who received a $60,000 severance payment in September in return for agreeing not to sue the city, will leave her post a month earlier than planned.

Turner rarely spoke during a more than two-hour City Council meeting Tuesday, and did not elaborate on her decision after Mayor Carlos DeBritto read a statement announcing she would leave Feb. 3.

In September, council members voted to award a $60,000 severance package to Turner in exchange for her agreement to not hold the city liable over allegations that council members Stan Bartell and Chris Luz violated the terms of Turner's employment contact. Her attorney said at the time, the pair had subjected Turner to a "hostile work environment and a great deal of stress."

Turner declined to mediate the issue with the city, after requesting an investigation that would have cost $5,000 to $10,000, and Bartell and Luz agreed to resign.

Bartell's wife, Carolyn Bartell, resigned in protest over the issue but later was reappointed to the council.

City Council members on Tuesday also rescinded a related decision to implement a $1 annual stipend that would have required them to abstain from voting in certain instances.

The $1 payment was approved in September after DeBritto and City Attorney Kurt Knudsen explained the stipend would hold council members to different expectations when voting. Council members receiving any amount of pay, however small, are considered to have a financial interest and would be required to recuse themselves from voting in certain instances.

In June, when council members Bartell and Luz faced allegations of violating Turner's contact, both were permitted to vote on related issues.

The stipend was approved by the council in September but did not survive a repeat discussion Tuesday. Councilwoman Karen Jones said the intent of the stipend could be lost on future councils.

"How do we pass this information along to new council members?" she asked. " 'Oh, by the way, you're going to get a dollar, which means you can or can't do this or that. And if you do this, we're going to boot you back out.'

"We already come on here with the understanding there are rules we must abide by."

DeBritto said he would have preferred to see the stipend remain, noting, "Ethics laws are all financially based, meaning that if somebody has a pecuniary interest, they have to recuse themselves from voting on certain matters.

"If they're not receiving the stipend, they can vote on anything. It's unfortunate the council didn't see it that way. I would have preferred for it to stay."

Councilwoman Bartell said the unanimous decision by the council was very telling of whether the stipend was necessary for the council.

"The council decided we didn't need it. We didn't feel it was necessary," she said.

Mike Stitt, a former council member who maintains a council "watch" page on Facebook, voiced concern with removal of the stipend.

"I read through all the ethics laws and there are no ethics laws that pertain to council members who are not paid," Stitt pointed out.

"I wish you would have held yourselves to a little higher standard. I don't think it would have been a problem for you at all. That higher standard, I think, would teach you to be better council members."

The council on Tuesday also agreed to form a committee to review a proposed code of conduct for council members.

As part of the settlement with Turner in September, the council agreed to require training for all existing and future council members to fully explain the city manager-council form of government under which the city operates.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.