Culbreth-Graft's true colors 

Ranger Rich

Some colleagues of Penny Culbreth-Graft — our city manager who orchestrated her own bizarre resignation last month only to stomp out of her last City Council meeting claiming she'd been wrongfully fired and is now demanding $105,000 in severance pay — think there are several plausible reasons for her anger. Among them:

• The flying monkeys that live with her in the creepy castle keep leaving the toilet seat up at night.

• A house fell on her sister.

• Dorothy is pretty and she is not.

Oops. Sorry. Those are the reasons I think she's angry.

Actual City Council members talked this week in carefully chosen words about our village's latest soap opera. (In next week's episode, our Utilities folks claim that between 9 a.m. and 9:04 a.m. on April 7, an old woman used 45 million gallons of water to rinse out her coffee cup. Meanwhile, a tearful Mayor Lionel Rivera discloses that he was raised by woodchucks.)

No, really, I contacted Council members to talk about the Culbreth-Graft situation. Because of potential legal issues, some spoke with handkerchiefs covering their mouths to distort and disguise their voices. This seemed somewhat odd because I was sitting in their offices and looking right at them.

Anyway, here's the background: Culbreth-Graft, city manager since January 2008, announced March 19 that she was resigning, effective April 16. By resigning, she forfeited any right to severance pay. At its April 13 meeting, Council swore in Fire Chief Steve Cox as interim city manager but clearly announced, more than once, that the appointment would not become effective until April 16 — the day of Culbreth-Graft's official departure.

At that point, Culbreth-Graft — who had clearly prepared this legal ambush — announced that she believed Council's action was tantamount to being fired. She called it "constructive termination of my contract." Then she marched out of the room, apparently choosing that mode of transportation because her broom was in the repair shop.

The next day, the financial wizard (she lost her home in California to foreclosure) sent the city a letter demanding the $105,000 — half of her annual salary.

From Councilor Bernie Herpin, talking about the resignation and the strange final act: "I didn't see it coming at all. It caught all of us off guard."

Yet Councilor Tom Gallagher says he "wasn't surprised at all" by Culbreth-Graft's demand: "Maybe my crystal ball was better than some others."

It seems that though the city manager had been here for more than two years, Council as a collective never really knew what to make of her. Even her resignation announcement itself was met with disparate reactions.

Says Councilor Scott Hente: "A month ago she told me in private she had put her Colorado Springs house on the market. I didn't get it. I thought she was maybe just buying another house. I had even given her the name of a real estate agent. Maybe that should have been a 2-by-4 upside my head, but it wasn't. I guess I was either too stupid or too naïve to get it."

Councilor Jan Martin: "Penny had expressed her frustrations about the job to me and had told me a while back that she was not staying."

And Councilor Sean Paige: "I sensed last year that she was semi-checked out. She seemed defeated when 2C [the 2009 property tax increase proposal] didn't pass, and then in the job evaluation recently she was defiant and provocative, almost as if she wanted to provoke her firing."

During her evaluation, apparently, a few Councilors asked her to knock off the negative talk about the village. She told them she would not paint a pretty picture of a town she believed was falling apart. She effectively told the Councilors — her bosses — to stick it.

There's more. The city manager prepares each Council agenda, and Culbreth-Graft's first version for April 13 included a resolution honoring her. Then, just before the meeting, the agenda was revised and the resolution vanished. After all, she had a different plan for her exit.

On April 8, not-yet-interim city manager Cox said he'd asked Culbreth-Graft for advice. These, he said, were her exact words: "Stick with your values and your ethics, and if you do that you can always look at yourself in the mirror."

As long as you're not bothered by the green face. Or the big hairy wart on your nose.


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