Opinion: Golden Parachutes Lay A Goose Egg in Mount Pleasant

On April 13, 2015 in his last meeting as Mount Pleasant Village President, Mark Gleason put forward a measure on the agenda to guarantee a six month severance package for all village department heads fired for any reason other than “just cause.”

This “golden parachute” deal for department heads was a complete surprise ­ it had never been discussed or recommended by any committee prior to that day. Gleason’s timing and motivation were and remain abundantly clear.

The Village of Mount Pleasant employs nine department heads which includes Village Administrator, Kurt Wahlen ­ who “coincidentally” was also Mark Gleason’s police partner years prior.

Mark Gleason hired his former partner as Village Administrator under circumstances which scandalized trustees not two years before. The novice Village Administrator received an $80,000 per year salary (which was increased 31% to $105,000 ­ sixteen months later), four weeks vacation and a whopping 24 sick days per year.

Should the Village Board of Trustees decide to cast off Wahlen, his severance package would be $52,500 plus benefits paid for by the people of Mount Pleasant. A sweet parting gift from his old partner on his last day as Village President.

Although the Fire and Police Chief were exempted from the deal, six other existing department heads at Village Hall would also qualify for the payout representing some significant and unprecedented cash.

In fact, no other municipality I could find anywhere offers a severance package like this to their department heads. It is unheard of. More than a few city and village representatives I spoke with laughed ­ hard ­ when I explained the deal to them.

During the meeting in April of 2015, in the discussion before the vote, Wahlen effectively argued at length on behalf of a deal in which he would benefit the most. (Audio)

He said it was a “speed bump” against retaliation firing by the Board of Trustees. Wahlen reminded the board there had been employee complaints in the past and this measure was “fair” and “right.”

Trustee Gary Feest responded the severance package was a “knee­jerk” reaction to the surprise election of Jerry Garsky, it would handcuff the board to existing employees and was not necessary. Feest also correctly stated this was not done in a business model.

When it was time to vote, only Gary Feest voted against it.

The vote didn’t really make the news and trustees who voted for the golden parachute severance pay never discussed it publicly until their opponents for the February primary election brought it up as an issue.

Their responses have been very interesting.

On January 1, 2016, Anna Marie Clausen wrote an article about her qualifications for re­election this April in the Racine County Eye. In the comments below, I asked her about her vote. Her reply was:

“The Village Board voted to approve 3 months not six, as part of a severance package. Not at all lavish, but rather common practice. This is a personnel issue effected with the individual.”

Of course Clausen is wrong on all counts. When confronted and corrected ­ Clausen deleted her comment. We will never know if she was attempting to misrepresent her vote or didn’t understand it at the time.

Two weeks later, candidate for re­election Rick McCluskey also weighed in on the “golden parachute” vote. His comments were oddly familiar:

“Lastly, there is no ‘golden parachute’ for Department heads. It is a speed bump to force future boards to stop and think before they take aggressive actions against a dedicated employee trying to do their job.​”

Had the Village Board of Trustees disallowed Kurt Wahlen to speak on behalf of a measure in which he had a financial interest ­ we would have never heard him pre­write Rick McClusky’s answer for him 10 months earlier. To be clear, a ‘golden parachute’ is defined as a large payment or financial compensation for an employee payable if they are terminated. What Anna Marie Clausen and Rick McCluskey voted for is by definition a “golden parachute” arrangement for Kurt Wahlen and six other public employees.

The reason they deny it is exactly the same reason Gary Feest voted against it ­ it is unnecessary and not a common practice even in the business world ­ unless you are a CEO or high­ level corporate executive.

How many of you reading this are guaranteed six months pay plus benefits if you are terminated?

Half of the Mount Pleasant Village Board of Trustees come up for election every year. The disposition of an elected body is always changing. This is the nature of municipal government in every city and town. Employees who perform well are and will always be of value. Those who are not, should move on.

Anna Marie Clausen and Rick McCluskey (along with Sonny Havn, John Hewitt and David DeGroot) voted to misuse public money to ensure future trustees cannot make the decisions they were elected to make without paying out tens of thousands of dollars first.

It also makes one wonder who exactly are they working to protect ­ their friends working at Village Hall or the taxpayers of Mount Pleasant? Taxpayers should hold Clausen and McCluskey accountable for it this April.

Early voting begins on March 21st at Village Hall and Election Day is April 5th. Vote for Ken Otwaska for Seat #2, Gary Feest for Seat #4 and Jon Hansen for Seat #6.

Kelly Gallaher

Mount Pleasant

About Denise Lockwood 878 Articles
Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.