‘Unusual’ contract provision earned former Montrose County manager payout after resignation

Former commissioner says Ken Norris ‘didn’t want to go’

By: - July 14, 2021 11:40 am

The Montrose County Courthouse in Montrose is seen on Aug. 16, 2014. (Jeffrey Beall via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

A stipulation in his employee contract allowed former Montrose County Manager Ken Norris to receive a substantial severance package, despite resigning his position, and to accept within days another, higher-paying county job as director of facilities and construction management, a position that was posted for roughly 25 hours and to which Norris was an immediate and sole applicant, interviews and documents obtained by Newsline reveal.

As Newsline previously reported, Norris received a severance package of roughly $140,000 from the county after he turned in his resignation June 3. On June 7, county commissioners hired Norris as director of facilities and construction management, which pays $5,000 more a year than his previous salary of about $120,000.

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Technically the county manager is entitled to a severance package worth a year’s pay plus benefits only if he or she is terminated. Though the nature of Norris’ departure appears to fall under the definition of termination in his contract, commissioners have not verbally called Norris’ leaving a termination. Instead, they have referred to the nonrenewal of Norris’ contract as a “mutually agreed” decision.

When Montrose County Commissioner Keith Caddy was asked if it seemed unusual for someone to receive a severance under these circumstances, he said, “I’m not an attorney, but yes, I think it’s unusual.”

However, “That’s the way his contract was written. We honored the contract,” Caddy said.

The 2016 contract between the county and Norris states that a severance shall be paid to Norris if employment is terminated as defined in the contract. Among other scenarios, the document defines a “termination” as occurring when the “Manager resigns following an offer to accept resignation by County.”

On June 3, Norris submitted a letter to the board of commissioners that said in part, “I understand that the County is making an offer to accept my resignation, and therefore I tender my resignation effective as of close of business day on June 3, 2021.”

Norris applied for the position of director of facilities and construction management that same day.

David White served on the board of county commissioners when Norris’ employee contract was written. He said the contract included the above-mentioned resignation clause because “the labor market for those types of jobs at the time was dismal.”

He added that county commissioners should be revisiting employee contracts on an annual basis, and that it is “unfair” for Caddy to place the responsibility for Norris’ generous payout on the previous board.

“At a minimum they should have revisited that contract,” White said. “They structured a deal with Ken Norris — he didn’t want to go.”

White declined to identify the source of that information. “You need to talk to Ken Norris,” White said.

Norris did not respond to phone or text messages requesting comment.

Commissioners asked Norris to resign from his county manager job because of his expertise as an engineer and being facilities director was a “better fit” — and Norris agreed — Caddy said.

Montrose County has several large projects coming up involving the local airport, jail and courthouse and “it was important to have an engineer to oversee these projects full time,” Caddy said. “That’s why he was moved back (to facilities director). He’s an amazing engineer.”

Norris has worked for Montrose County since 2010. He served three years as facilities director prior to being appointed to county manager in 2014. He continued to retain the title of facilities director during his tenure as county manager.

When asked last month how Norris could perform two jobs at the same time, county spokeswoman Katie Yergensen said, “We have a strong staff here. They were handling a lot of those duties.”

State statute required the county to post the director of facilities and construction management job opening. The county did so internally for roughly 25 hours. Norris submitted his application eight minutes after the job was posted on June 3, according to county emails obtained by Newsline.

“Nobody else had applied by the time it closed,” Caddy said.

White questioned why they would allow someone to resign and then pay them out — as if they were terminated.

“Ken Norris’ phony resignation did not entitle him to a year’s severance,” White said. “Only a termination would entitle him to a year’s severance.

“(The commissioners) should fess up and say, ‘Yes, we terminated him,’” White said. “I’m perplexed they got away with it.”

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