City to pay $30K of that settlement; remainder to come from TML

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

The Alice City Council approved an $85,000 settlement for former Assistant City Manager Sara Wilson Thursday, bringing an end to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge of discrimination she filed against the city.

Some $55,000 of the $85,000 settlement will be paid by the city's liability carrier, the Texas Municipal League, while the remaining $30,000 will be paid by the city.

On July 26, 2007, newly-hired City Manager Albert Uresti informed Wilson he was removing her from the position of assistant city manager, a position she held since November 2006, and was reassigning her as a code enforcement officer in the Health Division.

In a letter presented to Wilson in that meeting, Uresti offered her three choices.

The first option was to accept the transfer to the Health Division, with a salary decrease from $65,000 per year to $40,019.20 per year, and to agree not to sue the city.

The second option offered to Wilson was to submit her resignation effective immediately, to accept a 90-day severance package in return for a positive letter of recommendation "for any prospective employers," and to agree not to sue the city.

The third option was to decline the first two options and to request she be terminated immediately.

Wilson placed a "check" next to the second option, to accept a 90-day severance package and to submit her immediate resignation, and signed the letter.

On Aug. 2, Wilson sent a letter to the city rescinding that resignation.

"I was fired unjustly and I do not want to receive severance money from the City of Alice," Wilson wrote. "Upon reflection, I should not have signed the document, but did primarily due to the manner in which this document was presented. I felt intimidated and pressured to sign the document."

Despite that letter, the Alice City Council unanimously approved a severance package totalling $18,502.40 on Aug. 6, four days after Wilson sent the letter rescinding her resignation.

Wilson refused that settlement and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

On Thursday, City Attorney Joe Torres III said that complaint included allegations of race, gender and age discrimination by the city.

Torres said the city chose to settle the case in large part because the city's portion of the settlement was only slightly higher than the original severance package offered to Wilson.

In other business Thursday, the city council approved an ordinance that will require gas station owners to receive payment before turning on pumps for customers. The ordinance, which matches similar ordinances passed throughout the country, was requested by the Alice Police Department as a way to reduce the number of "drive-offs" in the city.

According to information provided by police department officials Thursday, in 2007 the Alice Police Department received reports of 800 "drive-offs" in the city. With the new ordinance, gas station operators who activate pumps before receiving payment could be subject to a fine of up to $500.

The council tabled a scheduled hearing relating to the removal of Fidel Rul Jr. from the Firefighters' and Police Officers' Civil Service Commission to allow the city more time to research and re-post the hearing. Rul told the council he approved of their decision to table the issue Thursday.

The council tabled an agenda item to adjust the salaries for clerical employees in the Public Works Department by $.25, to allow staff more time to research whether a similar adjustment was approved by council last year.

The council unanimously approved an item to eliminate fees for use of the concession facilities by non-profit organizations at city baseball, softball, tee-ball, soccer and kickball fields.

The $400 fee for all organizations that use the concession stands had been added to this year's budget by the council at the end of last year.

The council approved the creation of a Return To Work Policy for the city, that will determine how employees who have been injured on the job will be reintegrated into the workforce.

The council also approved a resolution reaffirming the approval of the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master plan that was approved in the last meeting. The resolution was needed to clear up a technical issue in the wording of the original resolution, city staff said.

The council also voted to purchase a $500 table at the Alice Chamber of Commerce's annual "Taste of Alice Banquet," to be held in March.