An unplanned discussion regarding the contract of Martinsville City Attorney Eric Monday grew tense between city council members on Tuesday after council member Danny Turner broached the topic.
The item was not on the meeting agenda.
During a brief pause between agenda items, Turner said, “I would like to take a minute and ask that council consider review of the city attorney’s contract, since we’re in a free period of 60 days, to clean it up and make it solely a Martinsville contract.”
“Should this be in public comment,” asked Vice Mayor Jennifer Bowles, referring to the period of each meeting during which items not on the agenda are typically brought up by council members.
“Well, no. We can do business anytime we want to,” Turner replied.
Mayor Kathy Lawson asked Turner if he was making a formal motion.
Turner responded he would like to make a motion for “a contract for the city attorney that just includes Martinsville and cleans up the old contract. The old contract has Patrick County in it, and has him as a tax collector. All that has gone by the wayside.
“He has a job as the Assistant City Manager. Of course, that’s not part of this contract because we only hire the City Manager and the City Attorney, so our contract with the City Attorney should be exclusive of that.”
“I would second that,” said council member Tammy Pearson.
A copy of Monday’s contract was provided by Turner after the meeting. Dated 2007, the document states that Monday’s employment agreement was made between the Patrick County Board of Supervisors and Martinsville City Council (collectively called “Employer”) and employs Monday as Patrick’s county attorney, as well as Martinsville’s city attorney.
The contract specifies that Monday would “divide his working time equally between the County of Patrick and the City of Martinsville” and “Be the statutorily designated agent … for the collection of the respective localities’ delinquent real estate and personal property taxes.”
Should Monday be terminated for reasons other than real or suspected malfeasance, or the commission of a crime, he must be paid $100,000 in severance pay.
“I’ve got no qualms about the buyout, I just want it to include just the City of Martinsville,” Turner said.
Should one of the two localities terminate Monday while the other chooses to retain him, “the terminating locality alone shall be responsible for payment of $100,000 …, notwithstanding any other provisions” of the agreement.
Tuesday’s discussion indicated that, while Monday no longer splits his time between Martinsville and Patrick County, the full $100,000 severance continued to apply.
Bowles and council member Chad Martin both said they would prefer to review a copy of the contract before taking action on Turner’s motion.
“I want to move this to another meeting,” said Bowles.
“Okay. We’ve got another 45 days,” Turner responded.
“Mr. Turner,” said Monday, “that particular passage that says you can fire me without paying me any severance, it doesn’t give you the authority to unilaterally renegotiate my contract. I have to consent to that.”
“We could do that anytime. It doesn’t have to be within that period of time,” said Lawson.
“Well, let’s do it during this period of time since there’s a provision there,” Turner replied.
Monday said, “well, I will consider that, but it does require my consent.”
Martin asked what issue Turner was trying to highlight in the contract.
“You’ve got an employment agreement with Patrick County,” Turner responded. “You’ve also got an agreement where he’s the tax collector. It’s just awkward. We need to hire our city attorney, and this is the paperwork to hire our city attorney going forward.”
Bowles asked to table the motion.
“With all due respect, can’t we fire Eric and (City Manager) Leon (Towarnicki) any time,” she asked with a laugh.
“You can fire me whenever you want,” Monday replied, lightly.
“I guess what the contract is saying is, yes, but there is a large amount you have to pay out of it’s not done within a certain period of time of a certain day,” Pearson said.
When Bowles asked what the amount was, Pearson replied it is $100,000.
“It’s $50,000,” said Turner.
“It’s $100,000,” Monday replied.
“It’s $100,000,” Pearson said, “because Patrick County is no longer involved in this.”
“To me this is a personnel matter, and it should be handled as a personnel matter,” said Lawson.
“I could not possibly agree more,” Monday replied.
“We will have closed session at our next meeting, and we will discuss that then,” Lawson said. “It’s a personnel matter. We don’t discuss personnel during open session. We will have this for discussion at our next meeting in closed session.”
Bowles said she did not feel Turner followed proper rules of order when broaching the topic.
“I feel like that was in the middle of a meeting that didn’t have any affiliation to what was on the agenda, and typically we don’t do that. And that’s not to say, Danny, that I don’t want to hear what you have to say. Of course, I do. But I felt like that’s not the typical ebb and flow of things that we do. It doesn’t have anything to do with what’s on the agenda.”
“I’ve talked about this for three years, and it never seems to be the ebb and flow of any perfect time,” Turner said.
Bowles began to reply, but Lawson interjected.
“We’re done with this conversation,” she said tersely. “We’re not having any more conversation. We are going to discuss this in a closed session. This is a personnel matter and we’re not having any more discussion. We’re moving to the next item, which is approval of the consent agenda.”
The council moved on to other agenda items without voting on Turner’s motion, which had been seconded, or Bowles’ request to table the motion.
During comments by members of council, Bowles, looking at Turner, said, “I’d like to say I hope we can follow Robert’s Rules of Order moving forward.”
In other matters, the council:
*Approved the minutes of work sessions on May 3, May 4, and May 18, and the May 10 council meeting.
*Held a public hearing to receive names of residents interested in being considered for an appointment to the school board. (See related story.)
*Authorized the City Treasurer to issue a refund totaling $13,481.54 for prorated 2020 business license fees to a local business identified in abatement #64891 and #64992 of the Commissioner of the Revenue Bill Adjustment report dated June 8.
*Authorized city staff to execute a Memorandum of Understanding with Bird, a commercial scooter operation. Monday said he expected the public-use scooters could be up and running by the July 4 weekend.
*Adopted a resolution changing the membership policy for the Arts & Cultural Committee. Despite no longer being in existence, the Martinsville Uptown & Revitalization Association continued to be listed as one of the constituent groups to be represented on the committee. The defunct organization was replaced with a representative from the West Piedmont Planning District Commission.
*Adopted a resolution accepting ownership of the former National Guard Armory located on Commonwealth Boulevard and authorized staff to execute transfer documents.