To the tune of $15,000, Greenwood’s City Council agreed Thursday to settle a lawsuit filed by a former finance director who was fired by the mayor twice in 2011.
The city will split the cost with the Arkansas Municipal League, according to City Attorney Mike Hamby.
"We as a council felt it was in the best interest of the city to go the route we went," Councilman Lance Terry said after a brief special meeting to accept the settlement. "I’m glad it’s over with, but I hate to cost the citizens of Greenwood some money. Poor leadership is what cost us that."
On Jan. 4, 2011, incoming Mayor Del Gabbard fired Finance Director Steve Tedford and Fire Chief Stewart Bryan. The City Council reinstated both employees later the same day.
"The mayor fired (Tedford) the second day on the job," Terry said. "Our hands were tied. We were right in the middle of budget, then we fired the finance director."
Gabbard fired Tedford for good May 25, 2011, less than two weeks after the City Council learned that $104,000 in unreconciled debts from 2010 were not represented in the 2011 budget.
In September 2011, Tedford filed a federal lawsuit against Gabbard "individually and in his official capacity" over the May firing.
According to the suit, Gabbard did not follow the city’s personnel handbook for termination and denied Tedford due process in violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Arkansas Constitution.
Tedford was initially seeking compensatory damages "exceeding $75,000" under the Whistleblower Protection Act, punitive damages, reinstatement or "front pay," attorney’s fees and costs and "all other proper relief."
On Thursday, Gabbard described the lawsuit as "the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen."
"It’s nothing more than harassment on their part," Gabbard said. "They’ve had me by the short hairs for two years now. To me, it was an unbeatable case for us and unwinnable for them."
The city turned the case over to the Municipal League to defend. The league provides legal counsel to its member cities in a way similar to an insurer. Mayor Del Gabbard along with five members of the City Council, Municipal League counsel and the opposing party then met in a settlement hearing with the judge. According to Mayor Gabbard, "We were told that this was just a frivolous lawsuit and even though we would most likely win in court, it would be much cheaper to just settle it out at a pittance."
Councilman Craig Hamilton said attorneys were optimistic about the city’s case, "but how much would it cost?"
"It just wasn’t worth it even if we had a good case," Hamilton said.
In August 2008, Tedford replaced then-Finance Director Dallas Melvin, who resigned. Tedford previously had served as the Greenwood planning director.
In late 2006, then-outgoing Mayor Garry Campbell fired Tedford from that job, too, but the council reinstated him a few days later. Campbell first hired Tedford in May 2003.