Revealed: Gentry’s Proposed Employment Contract  

Messenger Exclusive

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT – Precinct Three Councilwoman NaTrenia Hicks requested a special meeting Monday, July 1, in order to consider an employment contract for Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (CEIDC) Executive Director James Gentry. In an exclusive, The Messenger was able to obtain an advance copy of his proposed contract, sent to city officials and dated June 25. Gentry has a pending million-dollar lawsuit against the City of Crockett, filed in the past week. 

A meeting was scheduled, then re-scheduled and will take place Tuesday, July 9 at 6 p.m. at Crockett City Hall.

Sources have told The Messenger Gentry did, in fact, appear at CEIDC offices for the first time this week, after not having been seen since he was voted back on the job May 28. These reports could not be verified. 

While Gentry remained a city employee even during his paid administrative leave, an employment contract gives certain employees severance packages or other benefits, linked to their employment. Some of the clauses are confusing, some would seem not appropriate, given the nature of an economic development corporation and its relationship to the city. 

The contract makes clear in the first paragraph, it can only be suspended or terminated by the CEIDC board and not by Crockett City Council or city employees. Since currently the city council is the interim CEIDC board, it is unknown how this would be handled, or is an attempt to force the city council to appoint an independent CEIDC board. 

The contract continues to define its proposed relationship with the city, saying Gentry, “is not required to communicate with the City of Crockett Administrator or employees of the City Crockett for the purpose of conducting CEIDC business. The Employee only reports to the CEIDC Board of Directors.”

Crockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher (left) listens as City Councilwoman NaTrenia Hicks (right) requests a meeting to be held to propose a new employment contract for CEIDC Executive Director James Gentry at the Monday, July 1 council meeting.

Gentry proposes to hire and terminate CEIDC employees at his own discretion, prepare and administer the annual budget, and further makes a startling demand regarding any communications between CEIDC and the city. 

“The Executive Director shall only be in direct contact with CEIDC Board. The Executive Director shall ensure all communications from CEIDC employees to anyone within the City of Crockett is controlled to prevent further misrepresentation of facts, illegally releasing of documents as well as Private Identity Information.”

CEIDC and taxpayers would be on the hook for any legal expenses Gentry incurs – either through CEIDC or as an individual. 

“CEIDC does hereby agree to defend, hold harmless and indemnify Employee from any and all demands, claims, suits, actions, judgements, expenses and 100% attorney’s fees incurred in any legal proceedings brought against Employee in the Employee’s individual or official capacity as an employee and as Executive Director.”

The contract would be for five years, with a starting salary of $95,000 per year, with a minimum increase each year of 3%, or $2,850. This would put Gentry’s minimum salary in year five at nearly $107,000 per year. “Automatic renewal of Agreement sets forth a salary adjustment of at least 5% increase.”

Gentry requests a company vehicle, preferably an “SUV-style vehicle,” but then goes on to outline how expenses would be reimbursed for when Gentry uses his personal vehicle. It is not immediately clear why Gentry would use his own vehicle, if given a city car. The proposal further goes on to seek CEIDC budgeting for funds for professional development and continuing education. 

Gentry accepts a yearly performance review from the CEIDC board, but notes, “the evaluation of the Employee shall at all times be conducted in CLOSED SESSION of the CEIDC Board of Directors and shall be considered confidential to the maximum and full extent permitted by law. 

The proposed contract Gentry sent to City of Crockett officials was obtained by The Messenger

The agreement lays out the conditions under which Gentry’s employment could be terminated:

“(a) Any willful, knowing, grossly negligent, or negligent breach, disregard or habitual neglect of any provision of this Agreement, or any willful, knowing, grossly negligent, or negligent breach, disregard or habitual neglect of any duty or obligation required to be performed by Executive Director under this Agreement or under the Bylaws of the CEIDC and/or the laws of the United States of America or the State of Texas.

(b) Any misconduct of the Executive Director involving an act of moral turpitude, criminal illegality (excepting minor traffic violations), or habitual violations of the traffic laws, whether or not related to Employee’s official duties hereunder.

(c) Any willful, knowing, grossly negligent or negligent misapplication or misuse, direct or indirect by Employee of CEIDC or of other funds or other property, real personal, or mixed owned by or entrusted to CEIDC, any agency or corporation thereof, or the Employee in his official capacity.”

The severance package is unclear, if a potential payout would be one year or three, as the language is unclear, giving one amount in numbers and a different amount written out: “an amount equal to the value of twelve (36) months of the Employee’s then current salary to serve as the primary basis for the Employee’s severance pay.”

The contract interestingly goes on to state if Gentry is fired, but does not release any claims against the city, he is owed nothing. It is not clear if this is in case he is terminated to be able to continue his million-dollar lawsuit against the city, or if this is standard language in such a contract. 

There are a number of questions the document raises. The internal audit, as reported in The Messenger, is very clear CEIDC is a creation of city council, which exists at its discretion. How can the Executive Director of that organization – and a city employee himself – demand to have no communication with either city officials or the council?

The proposed contract seems to disregard CEIDC can be changed, modified or even closed at the city council’s discretion, saying implicitly, “This agreement is a contractual agreement which supersedes and or prevents the “at will” vote of the City of Crockett City Council for suspension or termination of this agreement and is in accordance with the CEIDC Bylaws, & the State of Texas.”

The internal affairs review – which was approved by city council – also states the city should run hiring, firing, bill paying and procurement for CEIDC. This contract seems to contradict that, entirely, and contradict what the city council already approved. 

The fact that Gentry will control the communication between CEIDC employees and city employees seems not only a hinderance to normal operations in the small world of the city of Crockett, it also might violate rules against potential whistleblowers. 

What role does Gentry’s lawsuit against the city play in the vote of city council? Was the timing of the filing of the lawsuit a ploy to get the contract signed or was it filed under the assumption Gentry will have the votes on city council to approve paying out the million dollar suit? Will the lawsuit go away with the new employment contract or will they run parallel to each other? Paying for continuing education and professional development seems interesting, given Gentry has been involved with CEIDC since 2012 and the nearly $100,000 a year contract. Would the city be able to find someone at that pay rate who would not need such personal development training?

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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