Employees released from contract? Buda EDC head claims discrimination
Accusations of discrimination from three female Buda Economic Development Corporation (EDC) employees were levied Tuesday against the city of Buda as the battle between the two bodies escalated.
Those accusations came as the Buda City Council approved a resolution by a split 4-3 vote that included the removal of EDC Board President Jose Montoya and three other board members, Eileen Altmiller, Jeremy De Alcala and Tia Pair. Buda City Council members Remy Fallon, Paul Daugereau and Evan Ture cast the dissenting votes.
The move, part of a lengthy resolution that took nearly 40 minutes to be read by City Attorney George Hyde, followed EDC board action in mid-April to release Executive Director Ann Miller and two other EDC staff members from their contracts due to a “hostile environment.”
Through the resolution, the city council censured the EDC board for failure to act “in good faith,” and directed the board to reinstate Executive Director Ann Miller and other employees to their positions.
By reinstating the employees, the new EDC board or city could potentially fire the EDC employees with cause or force their resignations.
In a statement to the city council, Miller said the actions of city leaders “sent the message to Buda’s citizens, businesses, business prospects and the outside world” that she and her fellow female EDC employees “are not equal to our male coworkers.”
Miller cited a weeklong battle between her, Hyde and EDC Attorney Monte Akers over payment of vacation and compensatory time/reasonable time off, which the city balked about paying. In that email thread, Akers said a Texas Workforce Commission complaint had been filed by Miller against the city due to a hostile work environment.
Sources told the Hays Free Press Tuesday that the city declined mediation on the matter and has opted for the investigation to run its course, which could take up to 16 weeks.
Fight over payments came after Montoya and the EDC board requested Buda’s HR department pay all three EDC employees for hours worked through the pay period ending May 3, as well as any accrued vacation and compensatory time, in accordance with the Buda employee handbook, which the EDC recognizes.
In an email chain with Akers and Miller, Hyde fought payment of Miller’s comp time as she appeared “to be legally prohibited from accruing” comp time as such accrual is reserved for “government employees only, not nonprofit corporation employees.”
“She is not an employee,” Hyde said Tuesday. “Her allegations of inappropriate behavior as a city employee are false. It’s impossible.”
Hyde in his emails also contested an increase in Miller’s salary in a 2017 contract extension, saying city council did not approve it. He also stated two different figures were listed in the contract, and that the EDC did not provide the city with the contract.
Buda “will need to reconcile this issue” before they can “reasonably rely on any amount approved by the board” to pay more than $110,000 as an annual salary, Hyde said.
Miller replied that the Texas Workforce Commission had identified her as a governmental employee and that a copy of her amended contract was submitted to former Buda Human Resources Director Kristin Williams when it was signed Sept. 16, 2017. City Manager Kenneth Williams, as well as Buda Finance Director June Ellis and Kristin Williams all signed off on the salary increase to $115,000 in October 2017 on Buda letterhead with Miller’s name listed under “Employee Name.”
All rules pertaining to Buda employees regarding vacation and sick leave apply to Miller, according to her contract. She is also entitled to compensation for the “performance of all services,” including devoting “such additional time as is necessary for the full and proper performance.”
Miller Tuesday questioned why there was “no special meeting” for two male Buda employees whose tenures had ended earlier in the week and payment of their comp time.
Vacation and comp time payments were also made to Warren Ketterman, former Buda EDC Executive Director, when he left office, Miller said.
Hyde said Miller “incorrectly asserted” she was a city employee. Hyde said a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) calls for the EDC to pay Buda $3,600 to take care of their payroll, which “she is trying to turn into an employment relationship” when her contract with the EDC board “specifically says otherwise.”
However, under a section entitled City Obligations, the MOU also states the city shall “administer the compensation package for the Director of Economic Development and staff employed by the Corporation.”
“Your actions will send a message to the world that Buda either stands for equality or it doesn’t,” Miller said.
City fights back
Buda City Manger Kenneth Williams said the resolution was meant to address things that were “misrepresented” and the council wanted to “get it straight.”
Williams did not specifically cite any specific issue within the lengthy resolution. Hyde said issues the city had, including an investigation conducted by Sheila Gladstone regarding accusations made against Miller by Buda city staff, were listed in the resolution.
Hyde did not provide the Hays Free Press a copy of the resolution for further study.
Among a litany of issues, the resolution alleged the EDC board violated the Texas Open Meetings Act at its Dec. 5, 2018 meeting by not listing discussion of personnel matters. The resolution alleged the notice for the April 15 meeting where the board released EDC employees from their contracts was not posted 72 hours prior to the meeting, per state law.
According to the Buda EDC website, the Dec. 5, 2018 agenda showed personnel matters discussed during executive session.
In an April 12 email to Montoya, Miller and Akers, Buda EDC employee Mandy Shaw said an email containing the April 15 meeting agenda to go on the city’s electric board outside the main door of city hall bounced back around 2 p.m. that day. Shaw said she had never had issues posting EDC agendas to that electric board.
Shaw said she taped the agenda on the window of the EDC lobby, per instructions from Miller, as well as placed it on the city’s bulletin board around 3:13 p.m. that day. Per the Texas OMA, notices of a meeting for a governmental body must be posted in a place readily accessible to the general public at all times for at least 72 hours. The EDC had to place its notice by 5:30 p.m. Friday for a Monday meeting.
Shaw said “it was a failure on the city’s part to post the Electronic Board, not my part.” That included being told by a Buda employee that City Secretary Alicia Ramirez was informed the EDC agenda needed to be posted to the electric board by 4 p.m., which never took place.
Buda Mayor George Haehn said the EDC board’s resolution to release employee contracts “was not needed.” Haehn took issue with accusations that city leaders planned to change EDC bylaws to “take control of the EDC board in order to divert, read ‘misuse,’ funds from the EDC for city CIP projects.”
A March 26 draft of the city council’s recommended bylaw changes for the EDC included allowing the board to move unencumbered, or unused, EDC cash reserves to fund capital projects. Buda city leaders Tuesday chose to strike that language from the bylaws.
City leaders opted to refer other bylaw changes, including requirement that the city council approve all programs and expenditures of the EDC, review financial statements, as well as have access to the EDC’s books and records, to the new EDC board for approval.
“People have the right to question my actions and policy,” Haehn said. “Anyone who does can run against me in the next election.”
Williams said the city “never wanted” the EDC employees terminated.
Miller said she recently received mailed documents citing her group health plans, provided through the city, stated she was terminated May 3, which is also the last day of her employment per the board resolution.
Montoya said issues between Miller and the city has been ongoing on for two years, and that Miller had been slowly “excluded from city meetings” with other department heads.
Tuesday’s developments are essentially a no-win situation for the city, Montoya said. He added that he felt Williams and Hyde are “driving this train.”
“It’s unfortunate really. This is not what I signed up for. It’s just sad that it had to come to this point, because nobody is served by these actions we had to take,” Montoya said.