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September 2, 2014

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Henderson officials say despite six-figure buyout, city still will save in long run

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen laughs while visiting with Police Chief Jutta Chambers in January 2010 during the groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of the Henderson Detention Center.

Despite being criticized for a potential payout of more than $200,000 to retiring Henderson Police Chief Jutta Chambers through the city’s Voluntary Employee Severance Program, city officials remain steadfast employee buyouts will result in savings for the city in the long run.

“The main objective of the VESP is to have employees take that buyout and then not fill those positions,” said Mayor Andy Hafen. “We realize that that’s not going to happen in every single case. In the case of Chief Chambers, obviously the only cost benefit that we might get is that the next chief may not be as high a salary as what the outgoing chief is making at this point.”

Fred Horvath, the city’s human resources director, said the city typically would see savings 10 to 12 months after employees accept the buyout packages. Savings are realized, city officials say, either by keeping positions vacant or by filling positions at a lower wage and less costly benefits.

“As a general rule we do not approve the refill of a position unless we’ve recovered the cost of the VESP for that position,” Horvath said. “We’re not leaving the chief of police position vacant for a year and three months, though.”

In the case of the chief of police, Horvath said the city would recover savings only for the time the post is vacant. Once the chief’s position is filled, the city will compensate by not filling a police officer position, which is roughly $85,000, he said.

The latest buyout plan — the city’s fifth since 2009 — was approved earlier this month by the Henderson City Council. The same night, council members also approved a $158,000 settlement with Adam Greene, who was kicked repeatedly by a Henderson Police officer while in diabetic shock during an Oct. 29, 2010, traffic stop. A Nevada Highway Patrol dashboard camera caught the incident on tape.

The outcry resulting from the release of the tape, combined with the revelation that the officer who did the kicking remained with the Henderson Police Department, culminated in Chambers’ announcement Feb. 16 that she would retire effective March 1. Her boss, City Manager Mark Calhoun, had announced Feb. 13 that he would retire when his current contract expires.

Chambers, whose annual salary is $185,326, has not yet accepted a buyout, according to Horvath. But city officials say they expect Chambers ultimately will take the buyout, estimated to be worth about $206,700. She also is eligible for a separate pension, estimated at $130,000 annually, from the Nevada Public Employees Retirement System.

Under terms of the buyout, Chambers would be eligible to receive two weeks of pay for each of the nearly 30 years she has worked for the city, three months of COBRA or retiree medical coverage, plus any accumulated sick leave and up to 520 hours of accumulated vacation time, Horvath said.

To avoid any potential legal challenge, the city made its buyout programs open to most every full-time city employee, including Chambers.

Horvath said that although the city has spent $11 million on the severance programs, the total savings to date are close to $31 million. He expects about 100 employees to participate in the latest buyout.

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