By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald
In the wake of the $750,000 buyout of former Killeen City Manager Connie Green, new details have come to light surrounding a previous settlement agreement between the city and its former recreation superintendent.
The factors leading up to the settlement not only offer insight into the decision-making process of council members and top-level city administration, but also raise questions over the degree to which a personal relationship between two city employees could have possibly influenced a decision that left taxpayers on the hook.
According to reports obtained by the Herald, the city's recreation superintendent, Megian Douglass, was terminated in August 2009 in response to allegations of insubordination, hacking into the city's computer system to delete emails and not responding properly to youth "fight clubs" that took place at the city's summer camps. Also alleged was a prior relationship between Douglass and then-Assistant City Manager Glenn Morrison.
Despite the grievances levied against Douglass, an estimated $35,000 settlement in back pay, in addition to other assurances, was approved by the city after a wrongful termination lawsuit was threatened by Douglass' attorney, Dan Corbin.
In a letter dated Nov. 20, 2009, Corbin told Killeen City Attorney Kathy Davis that a settlement agreement had been proposed.
"If we have not received a response within five days of the date of this letter we will proceed to file suit in District Court for Bell County," the letter stated.
When reached on Thursday, Green confirmed the decision to settle was made after being contacted by Douglass' attorney.
"Dan Corbin presented a settlement offer to the city and indicated that if the city did not accept the settlement, they would proceed to file a lawsuit in Bell County," Green said.
Green said he could not comment on whether a relationship between Douglass and Morrison had played a factor.
The accounts vary as to why the city gave ground on the threat, but according to one council member, the desire to keep Douglass' relationship with Morrison under wraps played a factor.
Larry Cole, who reportedly voted against the settlement along with former Councilwoman JoAnn Purser, said he felt the deal was an example of "blackmail."
"We were blackmailed then with a lawsuit," Cole said. "If the city just rolls over, to me that's blackmail."
By Cole's account, the council's decision was made at the behest of Green.
"We were briefed and Connie requested we make a settlement and the city attorney concurred and JoAnn and I didn't concur," Cole said. "I can't remember what the exact words were, but the insinuation was already there. What they didn't want to do is bring Glenn's participation forward."
The relationship between Morrison and Douglass was one issue brought out during a Civilian Employee Review Board hearing that was held in late 2009 when Douglass appealed her firing.
Douglass confirmed a relationship with Morrison during questioning by her attorney during the hearing.
When asked Saturday if a relationship with Douglass had taken place, Morrison said he would not contribute to what he called "rumors."
"I am not going to feed any rumors or anything about this situation, nor am I going to talk about my personal life," Morrison said. "There is a feeding frenzy of rumors, and I'm not going to be a part of it."
In the 2009 hearing's closing remarks, Davis told the review panel it was regrettable the relationship between Morrison and Douglass had to be discussed.
"The city did not want to bring up anybody's personal business today, but some of these things have come out, and so, we just have to address them," Davis said in her closing statement.
The settlement, approved in December 2009, reinstated Douglass under the stipulation she would immediately resign. The agreement gave her back pay to August and "all remaining wages, comp time, vacation pay, Hurricane Ike reimbursement, and other monies to which she may be entitled upon resignation from her position."
The deal also promised to remove any detrimental references from her personnel file and indicate on her records she was "eligible for rehire." Finally, Douglass was assured that personal photo files stored on her laptop and work computer would be returned.
The hearing, which featured lengthy testimony from numerous city employees, was focused on determining if Douglass' firing was warranted.
According to transcripts of the testimony, the organized fights between youth summer campers - repeatedly termed "fight clubs" - were the city's primary concern.
Both Douglass and the director of Killeen Parks and Recreation, Brett Williams, said the fights happened in June 2009 at the city recreation center. Williams and other department heads testified that Douglass had not handled the investigation effectively nor had done enough to prevent the fights from occurring.
An email that confirmed Douglass had shown up to work three hours late during the time the fights allegedly took place was presented to the review panel as evidence. A cellphone video recording that showed a fight taking place also was presented. The video reportedly showed teenage camp counselors watching the commotion but doing nothing to stop it.
According to the testimony, the 12-year-old camper who took the video was the child of a city employee and had been involved in one of the fights.
The board's chair asked Debbie Maynor, the city's director of human resources, if the investigation into the fight clubs was undertaken because the child's parent worked for the city.
"Um, no," Maynor said. "That would have had no impact on my initiation of the investigation as directed from Mr. Green because my main concern, not just as an HR professional, but as a parent, was that there was little children involved, and then I saw the videos of the children slinging each other around and the other kids in the back cheering them on and I was very much disturbed that was happening."
Besides the fighting, the hearing also focused on allegations that Douglass had entered the city's computer network on two occasions and attempted to delete emails from a relative of Morrison's.
Donald Fine, the executive director of IT for Killeen, testified that he considered the actions security violations and as a result, Douglass' network access was terminated in June 2009. Fine said he was told by Morrison to give Douglass limited access to the network.
Days later, more attempts were reportedly made to delete the same email account of Morrison's relative and the limited access was stripped.
Davis asked Fine if the security violations were serious enough to warrant being fired.
"Termination is never too harsh for a security violation in a network environment," Fine replied.
Although the Civilian Employee Review Board does not have decision-making authority, it does issue recommendations on personnel matters. The normal procedure after a hearing is for the board to make a recommendation to the city manager on the appropriate course of action. In the case of Douglass' hearing, however, the board was never asked for a recommendation.
"Before we ever got around to signing the minutes of our meeting, if I remember correctly, we were called and told we didn't need to come in and sign because a settlement of some kind (had been reached)," said Lynn Gulig, the board's chair. "It was almost like the hearing never took place."
Lois Anderson, another review board member, confirmed that a recommendation was never made. "We were told they were going to negotiate," Anderson said. "We were told after we were dismissed we could forget about it because the city would negotiate with her - we didn't have to do a determination.
"That was not standard procedure," Anderson continued. "We recommend and sometimes they take our recommendation. We have never been told afterward that they were negotiating and we were out and there was no need for our recommendation."
Purser said this week she remembers being uncomfortable with the council taking up the settlement without a recommendation. Purser said she had believed the firing was warranted.
"It was pulled from (the review board) prior to making a decision on it," Purser said. "We never got a recommendation. Based on what we were presented, I didn't feel like it was a wrongful termination. All the others agreed that it was best to settle and I did not."
Cosper said he recalls being informed that Douglass had hired an attorney and the advice was to settle.
"We were briefed by the city manager, who made a recommendation and the council supported that recommendation," Cosper said.
Contact Andy Ross at email@example.com or (254) 501-7468.
Anthony Scott, Danielle Church and Holly Wise contributed to this report.