Six weeks after El Paso County shelled out $32,000 in tax dollars to make its public information officer go away, the employee's abrupt departure still is shrouded in mystery.
And what exactly happened between Ann Ervin and the county could remain secret forever. Other than the golden parachute -- which represents more than half of Ervin's $62,678 annual salary -- both sides have agreed not to talk about conditions surrounding her departure. Ervin, a former local TV reporter, worked for the county for five years.
She is at least the fourth county employee to have received a payout over the last two years. Those employees have reaped at least $112,000. Other deals were hammered out with former Parks Director Barbara Nugent in 2003 and Assistant County Manager Dennis Cripps in 2004.
"I'm going to be a stay-at-home mom," Ervin says, declining additional comment.
Ervin's settlement, obtained by the Independent, says she won't sue the county for "any claim of retaliatory treatment" and that she agrees never again to seek employment with the county.
In addition to the cash, she gets a "favorable employment recommendation."
Ervin's settlement was not approved by any elected officials. Rather, County Attorney Bill Louis brokered the deal.
"There is probably a better way to do this," says Commissioner Wayne Williams, who has proposed a policy requiring a formal vote involving any severance deal of more than $25,000.
Commissioner Sallie Clark, however, maintains that the current system prevents internal employee matters from becoming public spectacles.
"I don't want to see employees become political footballs," she says.
The Independent analyzed the two performance evaluations the county has on file for Ervin. Completed in 2001 and in March 2005, the evaluations show that county officials were satisfied, and occasionally thrilled, with Ervin's work.
Clark says she has "full faith" that the county's actions were fair and necessary.
-- Michael de Yoanna