After a one-hour executive session late Friday afternoon (May 11), the Glen Rose City Council voted 3-2 to terminate the contract of City Administrator Chester Nolen. The contract termination resulted in Nolen being paid the equivalent of six months salary as part of a severance package, which was built into the contract extension he had signed in February.
Nolen was also to receive a check from the city for his unused vacation days, Glen Rose City Secretary Terri Johnson noted.
Nolen told the Glen Rose Reporter after the meeting that the contract termination was by mutual agreement. He said that he had asked Mayor Sue Oldenburg on Tuesday to have it brought to a vote because of “just constant what I feel to be a hostile work environment and social media degradation.”
The City Council voted in February to give Nolen a one-year contract extension for $93,600. Nolen confirmed that the mutual agreement voted on Friday calls for him to be paid six months salary.
Oldenburg released a statement for what she said would be her only comment on the matter. It states, in part, "The City of Glen Rose and the City Administrator in a meeting this evening have mutually decided in the best interest of and moving forward for both to unwind the existing agreement." The printed statement from the mayor did not mention Nolen's name.
Oldenburg’s statement noted that the council “will meet in the near future to determine our next step in the most efficient and professional manner to manage our City. There will be no further statement at this time.”
Nolen said he has no immediate plans other than taking some time away on a vacation.
The contract termination came less than one week after the May 5 election, which brought in new council members Julia Douglas and Chris Bryant and the re-election of incumbent Robert Marquez.
Bryant has been actively critical of Nolen in recent weeks on social media such as Facebook, in particular concerning the new trash pickup contract the city entered into with Knox Waste Service of Tye.
On Oct. 16, the Council decided by a 3-1 vote to approve the five-year contract proposal submitted by Knox Waste Service. Bryant — who a former Council member who was not on the Council at that time — was in attendance at that meeting in October and was one of two people who were escorted out of the City Hall building by Glen Rose Chief of Police Buck Martinez, by verbal order from Oldenburg after she told them they were speaking out of order about the trash pickup controversy.
The Glen Rose Reporter’s article about that meeting, published Oct. 27, 2017, stated, “On his way out, Bryant turned to the crowd and announced he will be running for a City Council seat in the next election. He also said that, if elected, he will try to see that Nolen is removed from his position. Bryant became more animated as he was walking toward the exit and addressed Nolen, saying, ‘Mr. Nolen, you’re gone.’ “
Knox began trash pickup services in Glen Rose on Jan. 1, as the previous contract with Waste Connections expired.
The council members who voted “yes” on the motion to terminate Nolen's contract were outgoing council members Sandra Ramsay and Doug Mitchell, along with Linda James. The "no" votes were cast by Dennis Moore and Marquez. The motion was brought by Mitchell, and seconded by Ramsay just before the vote.
The newly-voted members of the council, along with Marquez, were sworn for their two-year terms during Monday evening’s regular council meeting.
Marquez told the newspaper afterward that the vote terminating Nolen’s contract and giving him the six months of pay was a “big disappointment,” and he added, “I”m hoping the city doesn’t lose a step.”
Marquez also noted, “It’s very bad because all the council members have been hit by various people through (social media). It’s almost to the breaking point. It’s exhausting. What are you supposed to do about that?
“There is a common denominator, and we need to fix that. We just can’t keep losing good people because of somebody’s personal agenda. The common denominator is a certain person. People don’t want to work in a hostile workplace. It comes down to bullying.”
Moore told the Glen Rose Reporter that he voted no to Nolen’s contract termination, but explained that he had also voted against Nolen’s two contract extensions since he became city administrator in November 2015.
“I voted not to terminate his contract because I didn’t want to pay out that money. I didn’t vote for his contract,” said Moore, a former Glen Rose mayor. “I didn’t want to pay him that severance.”
Moore noted that the wording in Nolen’s previous contract had provided that he would be paid the equivalence of three months salary as severance pay, but that “got bumped” to six months severance when the contract extension was voted into place in February.
“If he wanted to leave on his own, he would get zero (severance pay),” Moore said, adding that he was the only “no” vote when the two previous contracts came up for vote to the council. “The only way he would get a payout is if the council voted him out.”
Moore said there was not just one issue that led to his “no” vote on Nolen’s contract extensions.
“It was more than one thing,” Moore stated. “I just wasn’t satisfied with his performance.”
The Reporter sought a comment from Ramsay, who had been serving as mayor pro-tem, but she declined to say anything on the record other than “I have no comment to be printed.”
James, who is in her first term on the council, did not return a voice mail message left on her cell phone seeking a comment.
Moore said that Glen Rose had two previous city administrators — Ken West and Kyle McCain.
Moore noted that West resigned, so he received no severance deal. McCain, who Moore recalled was making $70,000 per year in his contract, resigned with about four months remaining on his contract in 2015 and received a severance package, as he recalled.
Prior to when the city administrator was created by the City Council, Glen Rose had a city superintendent instead, Moore noted.