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Resignations, public and private

Citizens deserve explanation
By: Steve Archer, Reporter
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I do not like to see good people leave public service.

However, change is a natural part of life, whether it is in our homes, families or careers.

Lincoln saw two seemingly dedicated public servants resign in the last month: Police Chief Rex Marks and Planning Commissioner Keela Rodriguez.

However, the circumstances of their resignations were markedly different. Marks resigned July 1 in a closed-door, private meeting with Lincoln City Manager Matt Brower following an independent investigation into a list of concerns that the Lincoln Peace Officers Association filed with Brower.

Rodriguez resigned July 20 at the end of an open-to-the-public Planning Commission meeting where she stated her reasons for leaving her appointed position. She also made herself available to her fellow commissioners, city staff and members of the public following the meeting.

Public officials should resign publicly.

Lincoln residents may or may not agree with Rodriguez’s reasons for resigning, but at least they are not left wondering what happened. She explained her reasons, both personal and professional, behind her decision to leave the Planning Commission.

Marks, a more high-profile public figure – and one who was frequently in the public eye – was no stranger to public meetings or community service organizations. Marks looked the part and seemed dedicated to his department. What may or may not have transpired behind the scenes at the Lincoln Police Station is a mystery.

And that’s what bothers me and many Lincoln residents.

Why did Marks, who seems to have as many supporters as detractors in Lincoln, resign his very public position in a private meeting, and with no explanation, after less than three years on the job? Numerous telephone calls to Marks, since his alleged resignation, have not been returned.

Marks’ quiet departure raises more questions: Why did he receive a generous severance package when his employment agreement dictates that he would not receive a severance package if he resigned? Did Marks resign or was he fired?

The Lincoln News Messenger has requested Brower provide access and copies of Marks’ severance package, the list of concerns made by the Lincoln Peace Officers Association and the report from the independent investigation. Brower has provided limited details of the severance package but has refused to provide the document. Neither has he provided the list of concerns nor the report from the investigation.

The News Messenger filed a Public Records Act request July 15 with the city, asking for the documents, and the request was denied Monday.

The severance package received by Marks included three months salary and accrued vacation and sick leave as well as an additional three months of vacation and sick leave, according to information received from Brower.

However, clause (f) in the employment agreement for Marks – under the heading Termination of Employment and Service – indicates the “Employee shall not be entitled to Severance if Employee voluntarily resigns.”

And, under clause (d), of the same section, the employment agreement indicates that “in the event the City Manager terminates Employee’s employment without cause, the City shall pay the Employee an amount equal to three (3) months aggregate salary and benefits (“Severance”). Severance shall be paid to Employee, less withholdings, in a lump sum upon termination.

Lincoln residents deserve an explanation whether Marks resigned and why, if he did resign, it was done quietly and behind closed doors. If Marks was fired, Lincoln residents deserve to know what he did to lose his job.