When dozens of community members filled the Police Operations Center on Feb. 16 to celebrate Commander Fletcher Howard's retirement, they couldn't have known the ceremony was part of a severance agreement designed to oust the city's first black police commander.
"Employee will be given a retirement ceremony which will be held on February 16, 2016," the agreement reads.
That agreement, signed by Howard on Jan. 15 and a city representative on Jan. 19, is the second severance-pay contract since Mayor John Suthers took office in June 2015. The other was to Fire Chief Chris Riley, who was paid $80,117, six months' pay, when he retired March 4.
Suthers said through a spokesperson he couldn't comment on the Howard agreement, because it's a "personnel matter."
Howard left the city with more than $100,000 in severance pay, vacation and sick time — all while the city pretended he was retiring on good terms.
Howard was promoted to commander on July 10, 2008, and became the first African-American to hold that rank in the Colorado Springs Police Department's history. It was his last promotion in his 38 years with the city. He worked in the professional standards division.
When Howard signed the severance agreement, his salary stood at $118,616 a year. He's receiving six months' pay, or $59,308, paid out over that term following his departure. Howard also received $7,917 in unused vacation time, which is required by law to be paid. The city also paid $41,059 into Howard's retirement health savings account in accordance with the city's policy for converting unused sick time to cash for retiring ranking officers.
When Riley was forced out, Suthers stressed that — unlike his predecessor Steve Bach who paid nearly $1.7 million in severance pay during his four years in office — he would follow specific standards for allowing severance pay.
"My policy, simply, is that I will not pay any severance unless I deem it in the financial interest of the city of Colorado Springs," he told the Indy in March. "In other words, it [severance pay] would need to be cheaper than litigating a particular issue, and that's the policy that I'm going forward with."
The purpose of Howard's deal, as stated in the severance agreement, is "to amicably and completely resolve any and all matters" between the city and Howard, although those "matters" aren't explained.
The agreement bars Howard from disclosing information he obtained as a police officer and from disparaging the city or its officials. "In addition, Employee will not disclose to any person or entity the circumstances surrounding Employee's departure from the City's employment," the agreement says. It also bars him from bringing any claims against the city.
In exchange, the agreement states that Suthers, Chief of Staff Jeff Greene, Police Chief Pete Carey, deputy chiefs, commanders, a lieutenant and several officers — 21 people, all of whom are named in the agreement — "shall not make negative comments relating to Employee or his employment with the City."
The agreement prohibits both Howard and the city from disclosing terms of the agreement, although it notes that "all parties acknowledge the City is subject to the [Colorado Open Records Act."
None of that was known, though, when Howard "separated" from the city on Jan. 15. Instead, the city threw him the Feb. 16 party, where "officers, supporters, family and friends and public officials filled the Police Operations Center for Howard's retirement ceremony," according to the Gazette's report at the time. "Afterward, a long line of people waited just to shake his hand and say thanks."
While media reported Chief Riley was the first to receive severance pay, in March, since Suthers took office in June, turns out Howard's deal pre-dated Riley's agreement.
The city withheld it after the Independent submitted a CORA request on March 2 that sought all severance agreements under Suthers, as well as severance payments made since Suthers became mayor. After the March 2 CORA request was submitted, a city communications employee asked the Indy for clarification. The Indy then said it wanted all employment agreements containing severance pay. Howard did not have such an employment agreement, so the severance agreement was withheld.
However, the Indy also had asked for names of all those to whom severance pay was issued since Suthers took office, and Riley's was the only one provided. Now, the city maintains it didn't provide Howard's severance pay to the Indy because he had not received severance pay as of March 2.
His severance agreement called for his regular pay to continue following his official retirement date of Feb. 16. His last regular paycheck was written on March 4, and he began receiving his severance pay on March 18, the city's Human Resources Department says via the city communications office.