Former assistant city manager says she was fired 'unjustly'

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

According to information released by the City of Alice Thursday, former assistant city manager Sara Wilson sent a letter to the city rescinding her resignation and refusing a severance package offered by the city, four days before the city council voted to authorize the payment of that severance package.

City Manager Albert Uresti released the letter Thursday, in response to an open records request by the Alice Echo-News Journal.

The letter, which was dated Aug. 2, was addressed to Uresti, City Attorney Joe Torres and Finance Director Hector Hinojosa, and indicated copies had been sent to Mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez and all city council members.

In her letter, Wilson rescinded a document she signed in a meeting with Uresti, Torres and Hinojosa on July 26, in which she agreed to resign and accept a 90-day severance package.

"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."

On July 26, Uresti informed Wilson he was removing her from the position of assistant city manager, a position she had 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 and 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" mark next to the second option, to accept a 90-day severance package and to submit her immediate resignation, and signed the 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.

On Friday, Uresti said the council was aware of her letter rescinding her resignation prior to their vote to approve the severance package.

"It was reviewed, but we already had a contract," Uresti said. "She signed the release. We considered it, but we weren't going to undo the contract she signed."

Uresti also denied Wilson had been intimidated or pressured to resign.

"As far as I'm concerned, we've done everything legally," Uresti said. "She wasn't forced to sign anything."

Uresti said two checks containing the severance package and payment for unused vacation time had been mailed to Wilson, but he was not aware if she had received them.

Phone messages left for Wilson were not returned Friday.