Financial services director severance denied

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published July 23, 2019

 Thomas Darling sits at the Troy City Council table during his tenure as financial services director.

Thomas Darling sits at the Troy City Council table during his tenure as financial services director.

File photo

Advertisement

TROY — A divided Troy City Council voted against a proposed severance agreement with Tom Darling, the former financial services manager, July 22.

The  council voted 4-3 against the severance agreement. 

Mayor Dane Slater and Councilmen Dave Henderson and Ed Pennington voted to approve the severance agreement. Mayor Pro Tem Ethan Baker, Councilwomen Edna Abrahim and Ellen Hodorek, and Councilman David Hamilton voted against it. 

“I don’t even understand the vote tonight,” Henderson said. 

Baker said the city attorney advised the council against commenting on the vote, but Baker asked for a deeper probe into the council members’ actions during former City Manager Brian Kischnick’s tenure. 

“There are still questions,” Hodorek said. 

“Residents are skeptical that the culture of complicity no longer exists,” Abrahim said. 

“Things were going on that we knew nothing about,” Slater said. “We gave someone (Kischnick) a second chance, and it didn’t work out.” 

The issues surrounding the former finance director arose after officials received the results of a forensic audit requested from Plante Moran at a special meeting called July 17. The city “separated employment” for Darling July 16.

The severance agreement appeared as a council action agenda item July 22. 

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said via email that “the city relies on the memorandum in the agenda packet,” and she said she wouldn’t comment any further. 

Darling could not be reached for comment by press time. 

Plante Moran’s 40-page report to the city, available on the city’s website, troymi.gov, states that in speaking with 16 city employees, mostly department heads, “a common theme was represented to us in our interviews in that employees experienced and/or heard of multiple instances of Brian Kischnick (primarily on his own, but at times with the finance director) either adversely influencing or, at a minimum, attempting to adversely influence others through intimidation, position or power. 

“A prime example of this poor tone trickling down (i.e., other employees making poor decisions) is the inaction of the finance director to prohibit/restrict Brian Kischnick from performing problematic transactions. The finance director was aware of at least some problematic credit card charges Brian Kischnick  incurred. This included the excessive phone accessories (including four Beats headphones that Brian Kischnick purchased outside of the allowable purchasing method). When informed of these transactions, the finance director chose to ignore and/or allow them. 

“When we inquired about these transactions in our interview with the finance director, he continually stated there was not a pattern and it was not material or did not reach his dollar threshold to report it, so he made a judgment call that the transactions were fine,” the report states. 

According to Darling’s interview with Plante Moran, referenced in the report, Darling said, “In my mind, I’m pretty assured that certain council members knew of this stuff going on. … I knew the council pretty well, and you know what? They didn’t have a problem with it. … The tone from the top … it’s part of doing business. … I feel my observations were correct, as they did nothing after the (Lange) report. … At the end of the day, if he didn’t hang himself, he’d still be here.”

The 518-page report that former labor attorney Craig Lange compiled and presented to the council in August 2016 included the city’s 2016 media statement and Kischnick’s employment agreement and action plan. Receipts for thousands of dollars of food purchases, transcripts of interviews with a city employee about her hiring process, employee correspondences about an unreported car accident with a city vehicle, the purchase of a $33,053 Jeep Grand Cherokee for Kischnick’s use, receipts for the purchase of phone accessories and Kischnick’s request for over $1,200 in free venue passes were compiled in the report. 

The memo from Grigg Bluhm and City Manager Mark Miller in the July 22 council packet states that “the city separated employment with Financial Services Director Tom Darling effective July 16, 2019. Believing it to be in the best interest of the city, city administration asked our outside labor counsel to prepare the attached severance and release agreement in anticipation of this separation. A copy was provided to Mr. Darling during the separation meeting on July 15.

“If both the Troy City Council and the former financial services director approve the proposed agreement, the city will be released from all potential claims and this matter will be concluded. If not, the former employee may seek any other remedy available by law.” 

The proposed severance agreement included: 

• A severance payment of $72,227, which represents one-half of Darling’s annual salary.

• $22,953, which represents 220 hours of unused vacation time and 110 hours of compensatory time. 

• Continued paid medical benefits for Darling and his spouse through Dec. 15.

John Lamerato will serve as the interim financial services manager. He retired as Troy assistant city manager, administration and finance in 2011 to serve as assistant city manager, administration and finance in Grosse Pointe Farms.

He retired from that job in June 2017.

Call Staff Writer Terry Oparka at (586) 498-1054. 

Advertisement