Richmond paid $1.5M in severance over 4.5 years

Richmond paid $1.5M in severance over 4.5 years

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Controversy is stirring over the nearly $400,000 paid out in a severance package to former city auditor Umesh Dalal. Some in city council say they now regret their decision.

But an NBC12 investigation shows high-dollar payouts to folks on their way out of city hall is nothing new in Richmond. The city has paid out $1,550,235 in severance deals in just the last four-and-a-half years - taxpayer money that was paid to just 14 people in high-profile jobs. The deals are often made up of cash payouts, retirement perks and/or unused vacation.

Those figures include the departure of two superintendents: Dr. Yvonne Brandon was given a $192,000 severance deal by the school board; Dr. Dana Bedden received $294,000 in severance.

Under former Mayor Dwight Jones, his Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall walked out the door with $164,000 severance. Former Police Chief Bryan Norwood got $67,000 in severance.

Jones' administration also gave out $166,000 in severance to four loyal staffers who left office with him.

At the time, in early January of 2017,  several city council members voiced concerns.

"Moving forward, we should not be paying out these huge severance payments," said councilwoman Kim Gray.

Six months later, Kim Gray voted "NO," along with Kristen Larson and Parker Agelasto. However, the majority of city council said yes - paying out the largest severance in recent memory.

With his job performance under scrutiny by the council, former City Auditor Umesh Dalal walked away with a nearly $400,000 package.

"That's a lot of taxpayer money. Why?" asked Jay Burtch. He's a labor and employment attorney with 44 years experience in Richmond. He often works on severance with both companies and executives.

"Because just the sheer number - $400,000 on a $150,000 salary - raises a lot of questions. You don't pay that kind of money unless you perceive that, if you don't pay it, something bad is going to happen. There's a story that's not being told."

Burtch says there are three main reasons an employer pays severance. First, as a gift of gratitude for years of service. Second, they pay it because it's in an employment contract.

Or third, "to eliminate potential liability. The liability can be real or perceived," said Burtch.

NBC12 obtained a copy of Dalal's employment contract, and it does spell out - he should be paid seven months of compensation, including unused vacation time. The city council paid Dalal $106,991, which includes the unused vacation days, but he also received $284,894 to boost his retirement plan.

"To pay someone almost three times their salary means you have a reason for giving severance," says Burtch.

Mayor Levar Stoney criticized the city council's retirement payout to Dalal calling it "excessive." It's also worth pointing out Stoney parted ways with four employees in February, and the severance packages at that time were much smaller than under the previous administration.

If there's to be any changes in the way severance is handled in Richmond, that takes a new ordinance and vote from city council.

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