August 20, 2020 | By: Elena Durnbaugh | Battle Creek Enquirer
ALBION – After only 11 months on the job, the city of Albion and City Manager Darwin McClary are parting ways.
Albion City Council voted unanimously to accept McClary’s resignation as laid out in a five-page separation agreement, which puts neither McClary nor the city at fault for the termination of his employment.
As part of the agreement, McClary will be paid a total of $52,500 over the course of six months and will be paid for the time off he accrued while serving in the position. The city will also make a life insurance payment on behalf of McClary for the next year and will pay $5,218.02 for six months worth of health insurance opt-out payments, plus $3,478.68 for health insurance opt-out payments for the months of April through July 2020, according to the agreement.
The agreement also includes a non-disparagement clause, in which McClary and the City Council agreed not to say anything that would damage the other party’s reputation. The non-disparagement clause includes any claims of wrongful discharge, breach of contract or alleged employment discrimination.
McClary could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
McClary was hired in September 2019 for a four-year contract with a starting salary of $105,000 per year. He was one of four candidates to be interviewed for the position out of a field of 20 applicants during a four-month search.
When McClary was hired, City Council members praised his integrity and his decades of experience, but six months later, the City Council was frustrated that McClary had not done more. At a special meeting on March 7, council members formally brought their concerns before the city manager, saying they did not feel he was communicating enough with them.
In April, the council conducted a six-month performance evaluation, giving McClary an average score of 2.9 out of 5 possible points. In their individual reviews, several council members expressed frustration that McClary was not more visible in the community and said they felt he should be taking a more active leadership role.
McClary was placed on paid administrative leave on July 28.
“We feel that his performance has not been what it needs to be for our city,” Mayor Dave Atchison said. “We need a city manager that we have confidence in, that we’re satisfied with the performance and frankly, we need a city manager that we’re impressed with the performance.”
With the separation agreement, McClary is the third Albion city manager to resign in a period of two and a half years.
McClary’s immediate predecessor in the job, LaTonya Rufus, resigned in March 2019 after five months in the position. Rufus was arraigned earlier this month on two charges of embezzlement. The previous city manager, Sheryl Mitchell, had a tumultuous relationship with members of city council and resigned in 2018.
Atchison said the City Council did not take the decision to accept McClary’s resignation lightly, given Albion’s recent history with city managers, but the council felt the city needed someone to take a more proactive approach.
“These are going to be fiscally tough times and a little bit chaotic and when there’s chaos, there’s opportunity to do innovative things too. And so that’s what we have to have.”
Former Albion Mayor Garrett Brown and former City Councilmember Sonya Brown, who are still active in local politics, expressed concern that McClary was leaving the position after less than a year on the job.
“There’s some deep misunderstandings about what governance looks like on the local level,” Garrett Brown said. “I’m really disappointed because it might cost the city money, and it makes the city look unstable to potential candidates. It’s unfortunate, and this is not the time we need something like that because of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on our local government.”
Sonya Brown was part of the committee that worked to hire McClary for Albion. She was recalled from her City Council position last November.
“He was clearly the community’s choice for city manager,” Brown said.
Brown said she felt that McClary was the strongest candidate to apply and his diligence and thoroughness on the job was perceived by some on the City Council as being difficult.
“He didn’t hesitate to push back when something wasn’t in line with the way things were supposed to operate,” she said.
She said McClary filled his role as the executive manager for the city and did not make public appearances to meet with influential people in the city, which she said was outside of his role. That lack of engagement, she said, likely frustrated the council, who saw that as a city manager’s role.
This latest upheaval in local government should give voters pause before they cast their ballots this fall, Brown said. Four council seats are on the November ballot, and three council members, including Atchison, Councilmember Al Smith and Councilmember Marcola Lawler are up for reelection.
“Voters need to take heed that if they want an effective city government they need to seriously consider the representatives that are in those seats,” she said.
Assistant City Manager Hayley Snyder is currently serving as active city manager for Albion.