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Heber City manager seeks new contract with added job protections

Ben Lasseter/KPCW
[FILE - June 2021] Heber City Manager Matt Brower (left), Mayor Heidi Franco (a councilwoman at the time) and Councilman Ryan Stack at a meeting in Heber City Hall.

Heber City Manager Matt Brower wants to renew his contract ahead of schedule. Mayor Heidi Franco raised concerns about that in her blog.

Although Brower’s contract lasts until September 2024, he requested an early renewal with new terms in a city council meeting Tuesday.

As city manager, Brower is in charge of all city staff and is the city’s highest paid employee. His current annual salary is $175,000. The new terms he proposed wouldn’t change that or increase his benefits.

Consideration of his request was on the Heber City Council agenda for March 7. Three days before the meeting, Franco shared a message about the topic on her new blog.

She wrote that Brower’s request would make it “exceedingly difficult for the City to let go of the city manager ‘with cause.’” If terminated “with cause,” Brower is currently not entitled to severance pay, but he could receive three-quarters of a year’s salary if fired “without cause.”

In Tuesday’s meeting, Brower said he wanted to clarify what fireable offenses are and outline an appeal process in case that happens. He said it protects him in case he’s wrongfully accused of misconduct and the council fires him because of pressure by public outcry.

With the change he’s requesting, if there’s a potentially fireable offense, the council would vote to start an investigation. Then, the city would hire an independent attorney to investigate. If that yielded “clear and convincing” evidence, the council would again vote whether to fire him. Another clause would give him 30 days to appeal the decision to the Wasatch County 4th District Court.

On Tuesday, Franco said she’s worried that could set a precedent that would allow future city managers to abuse the process. She stressed that she wasn’t specifically worried about Brower.

“Not you, Matt,” she said, “but a city manager would say, ‘Hey, I'm pleading the Fifth. I'm not going to give your investigator any evidence on the allegations against me.’ And so, then we have this investigation that doesn't go anywhere because the city manager wants to protect themselves and can plead the Fifth. That's not going to do us a lot of good.”

The council didn’t decide on the contract Tuesday, instead voting unanimously to bring the subject back later after more review. City Attorney Jeremy Cook said at that time, Franco will have a vote because city code empowers the mayor to vote with the council on the city manager’s employment.

Before moving on, Councilman Ryan Stack suggested simplifying parts of the contract terms. He said the 30-day appeal window clause could be redundant and bog down the legal process.

He proposed removing that but said other updates seemed fair.

“I feel like this strikes an appropriate balance,” Stack said, “because it spells out specifically the type of conduct that triggers a for-cause termination, or at least an analysis, and it also adds an additional layer of protection in the form of requiring specific written allegations to be adopted by the city council.”

Stack also suggested the legal standard for a fireable offense be “a preponderance of evidence,” a lower legal standard than a “clear and convincing” one.

Franco said Stack was right to point out the redundancy. They also agreed that a long process would hurt everyone involved.

“I think if you get to that point where your hand is forced and end up pulling the trigger, it needs to be a clean break, and not a drawn-out process,” Stack said.

The council didn’t specify a date to revisit Brower’s contract but said members would meet with him and address it sooner rather than later as a courtesy.

The proposed contract and a video recording of the council meeting are available at heberut.gov.

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