During the councilmen’s time to speak during the July 9 Town Council Meeting, Sulphur Springs District representative Billy Walls Sr. raised questions about the severance packages received by former Town Manager Larry South and former Police Chief Steve Williams.
Walls said he agreed to a much lower severance package in council’s executive session on June 11 than the over $90,000 the two men have actually received. Each man received eight months’ salary and had their health insurance premium paid for six months. South received $45,454.96 in salary and $2,526 in insurance, while Williams received $40,088.56 in salary and $2,526 in insurance.
“What we discussed and what went down are two different things,” said Walls in a telephone interview on June 12. “I agreed to pay them for sick leave up to $5,000 and earned vacation time. But this $90,000, I have a problem with.”
Although Walls seconded the motion to approve the severance packages, he said he didn’t learn of the amount until he read it in a July 4 edition of The Carroll News.
“When I read that in the paper, it was shocking. It blew me out of the water. I had citizens wanting to know what was going on. If a man earns it, I have no problem giving it to them, but they didn’t earn that kind of money. If I was Steve and Larry I’d be ashamed to walk down the street.”
Walls added he felt the severance packages did a disservice to the taxpayers.
“When they squander money, that worries me. The reason I’m in office is to serve the citizens. This hurts them, it doesn’t help them. It rips them off. I hope he citizens remember this when the election comes around in 2014.”
Greg Yonce, the Laurel Fork District representative, said he doesn’t understand why Walls would be surprised by the amount of the severance package.
“We were all looking at the same document. Changes were made and initialed and the entire document was read through. If he (Walls) didn’t understand it, he had the opportunity to not support it, to ask questions,” said Yonce. “We all had the exact same information and all received it at the same time. All the information was presented at that meeting, nobody had it ahead of time.”
As for the amount of the severance packages, Yonce said, “Part of our discussion in deciding the kind of package we were going to offer concerned the new people we would hire. We wanted them to know they would be taken care of.”
Yonce noted that “we just didn’t pull a number out of thin air. We contacted other local governments.”
In addition, Former Mayor Bill Tate said Carter Glass, a Richmond attorney who has worked with the town before, was consulted. “We did what he recommended,” Tate said of Glass, who focuses his practice on local government law, including civil litigation and administrative proceedings.
Yonce added his first concern as a councilman has always been the citizens of Hillsville.
“I have never let my personal feelings influence a decision I’ve made as a member of council. I’m always looking out for the best interest of the citizens.”