Former stormwater manager Tim Mitros, who worked his last day for the city on Dec. 28, is the third city employee Mayor John Suthers has paid to leave since he took office in June 2015.
Taken together, the three payoffs total nearly $200,000.
That's a far cry from the $1.7 million shelled out by former Mayor Steve Bach when he got rid of nearly every department head and paid off dozens of workers from Fleet Management when it was privatized.
The first employee to get the boot under Suthers was longtime Police Commander Fletcher Howard, the highest ranking African-American on the Colorado Springs Police Department. His Jan. 15, 2016, deal paid him $59,308 in salary. (Howard's departure wasn't seen as forced at the time, because the city threw him a retirement party on Feb. 16 at the Police Operations Center.)
Next, Suthers pushed out Fire Chief Chris Riley, paying him $80,117 in March in a departure characterized as a retirement after Riley had worked for the city a mere 30 months.
Now, Mitros, 57, is being paid $58,525 to retire effective Jan. 13, according to his severance agreement.
An engineer, Mitros worked for the city for 25 years, working in development review for nearly 20 years before shifting to oversee the city's poorly funded stormwater program in 2012. After the city received a scathing review from federal and state regulators in August 2015 for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act, he was reassigned to the Office of Emergency Management as its engineering program manager. The EPA sued the city in November due to the violations.
Mitros tackled a host of headaches as stormwater manager. One dramatic example: A 35-foot waterfall that carved a deep, several-story-tall chamber in the side of a cliff in northwest Colorado Springs due to the city's approval of a faulty drainage system back in the 1980s. Water crashed down onto a residential property every time hard rains set in ("The waterfall no one wanted," Cover, Aug. 6, 2014).
Fixing the problem retroactively proved a challenge, but the city, with help from Mitros, reached an agreement with the home's owner in mid-2015 to quell the flooding. "Everything seems to be working well," homeowner Michael Chiaramonte told the Indy recently via email. "Had some crazy rains this summer but no issues."
Those are the kinds of success stories that made Mitros' job rewarding. "Serving the people has been my joy," he told the Indy.
It's worth noting that Mitros wasn't trained as a stormwater engineer. He used to design roads and bridges but was appointed to oversee city drainage issues in 2012.
"Then we had the Waldo Canyon Fire come into my neighborhood," he says. His Mountain Shadows home was spared, while about 350 others burned to the ground, but his job got more complicated in the aftermath. He worked closely with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte [CUSP], a mitigation agency, to design detention areas and channels that relied more on sustainable natural solutions, like rocks and trees, than concrete flumes to carry stormwater to Fountain Creek, although he oversaw repairs to cement channels as well.
Mitros also assisted in developing debris nets at The Navigators' Westside compound, and debris basins to keep sediment out of the city's storm sewer system.
More recently, Mitros worked with homeowners whose properties were devalued by shifting soils in the city's foothills, another assignment that led him to deal with citizens beset with disastrous circumstances. "I don't need an engineering degree anymore," he quips. "I need a psychology degree when all of a sudden, people lose everything."
Suthers has paid each of the three employees he's nudged into retirement six months' salary in severance pay. Those totals don't include unused sick and vacation time accrued or continued payments for health insurance coverage. In Howard's case, he left with $108,284 from the city in severance pay and sick/vacation time accruals.
Suthers told the Independent last year that he would authorize severance pay only if "I deem it in the financial interest of the city of Colorado Springs," meaning that severance pay "would need to be cheaper than litigating a particular issue."
Before taking office Suthers termed severance pay a tool to achieve "basic fairness" when dismissing an employee and said that he thought Bach spent "way too much" paying people to leave.
Suthers has said he adheres to Policy 66, which pertains to at-will senior managers, that "simply says the mayor in his sole discretion can pay up to six months' severance." But, as previously reported by the Indy, ("Mayor Suthers says giving severance pay must be in the city's 'financial interest,'" News, March 16, 2016), at least 11 top managers at the city have severance deals in place from the Bach years, and they carry a potential to cost taxpayers nearly $1 million.
None involves lower-level managers like Mitros, suggesting that even those employees without a severance deal in place could be paid to leave if the mayor wants them gone.
The existing agreements cover top managers and vary from guaranteeing severance pay if dismissed without cause to leaving the severance pay decision to the mayor's discretion. Five Bach appointees have agreements that state the city "agrees to pay" or "will pay" severance of up to six months' salary if they're dismissed without cause. Those are Emergency Management and Recovery Director/Deputy Chief of Staff Bret Waters, Parks Director Karen Palus, Planning Director Peter Wysocki, City Clerk Sarah Johnson and City Attorney Wynetta Massey.
Five others say the city "may" pay up to six months' salary on termination without cause, or that severance pay is discretionary. Those include Chief Information Officer Carl Nehls, Chief Financial Officer Kara Skinner, Human Resources Director Mike Sullivan, Police Chief Pete Carey and Public Works Director Travis Easton. Suthers' Chief of Staff, Jeff Greene, has a discretionary deal.
The top three potential payouts would go to Massey, $96,138; Greene, $93,472.50, and Carey, $91,389.