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Elkhart City Secretary Terminated

Elkhart City Hall

Sheridan to Receive $100 K Severance Package

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

ELKHART – In a move that is raising quite a few eyebrows not just locally, but at the state level as well, Elkhart City Secretary Carla Sheridan was terminated on Tuesday, June 4 during a called meeting of the Elkhart City Council.

Due to previously high rates of turnover within the city, the city secretary asked for and received a 10-year contract in 2017. The contract included a termination clause of $100,000, payable within 30 days of termination, provided Sheridan had not committed a felony.

The $100,000 figure is approximately 10% of roughly $1 million in annual operating expenses for the City of Elkhart, comprised of an $850,000 budget and a $130,000 contingency fund.

Newly-elected Elkhart Mayor Jennifer McCoy was contacted concerning the matter.

“The council members and Sheridan disagreed over the city secretary’s role. The council felt like it would be in the best interest of the city and for the city to grow and move forward, the council believed it would be best to terminate Mrs. Sheridan,” the mayor said.

Asked specifically if the city council was aware of the $100,000 termination clause, McCoy said yes.

“It is very unfortunate that previous councils had locked future city councils and taxpayers into such a contract like that,” she said.

McCoy further indicated Public Works Director BJ Perry had also received a contract similar to Sheridan’s with the same type of severance package.

“It basically ties the future of the city to a 10-year contract,” she added. “Personally, I had no problem with Mrs. Sheridan. We got along just fine. However, I do understand the city council’s position.”

As to where the city will find the money to cover the $100 K payout, McCoy explained all the municipality’s departments are fully funded.

“We are good budget-wise and we have emergency funds set aside. I’m not saying $100,000 isn’t a lot of money, but in the overall scheme of things, it will not hurt us tremendously,” she said.

It should be noted – since 2014 – the city has experienced two complete turnovers of the city council. Also since 2014 – the mayoral position has seen five individuals hold office. They were: Raymond Dunlap, Erroll Tatum, Andrew Chavarrilla (mayor pro tem acting as mayor), Mike Gordon and now Jennifer McCoy.

Arguably one of the most important positions in a city the size of Elkhart is the city secretary’s position. Since 2014, the city has had three – Donna Surber, Jan Stuteville and Carla Sheridan.

As previously reported by The Messenger, the Texas Rangers were called in to investigate the city of Elkhart during the early months of 2018.

“We have nothing to hide,” former Mayor Mike Gordon said at the time. “Everything’s pretty open.”

In a January 2018 interview with The Messenger, Gordon was asked what he believed may have prompted the investigation.

“I have really no idea.  It’s just a grievance with this present council and some of the employees that are here,” he said.

During the interview Gordon indicated the city “went through a lot of city secretaries” before selecting Sheridan, who Gordon said has “exposed a lot of inaccuracies and problems within this city.”

Also in the 2018 interview, Gordon spoke about the 10-year employment contracts which were put in place by city officials in an effort to “protect” Sheridan and Perry.

Gordon indicated the contracts – which included the $100,000 severance package – had been viewed as a cause for concern and said several people had voiced some rather harsh opinions on the matter.

“This outside group of people made statements that they were going to come in here and clean house and do this and do that and basically put in the people they want. This $100,000 severance pay doesn’t really mean a thing. What it does mean is if they come in here and fire these people because they don’t like them, they have to pay them $100,000,” Gordon said.

“It really means nothing,” he continued. “It just means that you leave those employees alone and let them do their job. I think that’s the sole purpose of these outside people who’ve got an ax to grind. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just the way it is. It’s politics.”

Gordon explained that members of the previous council are “basically after” Sheridan and Perry who “… have reported a lot of things that had been going on around here” when the past council was in office.

Included in this previous council Gordon referred to are current council members Raymond Dunlop and Lucia Butler.

“They’ve been called names, and a lot of this stuff is on videotape,” he said. “We have records of all this stuff.”

According to Gordon, Elkhart is a city which has faced more than 30 years of problems and finally has “a good council in place.  We’re trying to get some things cleaned up, and a lot of people don’t like that.”

Amy Ashforth – a former Palestine Public Works employee – has been named interim-city secretary.

Attempts to reach Sheridan for comment were unsuccessful.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.