The Las Vegas City Council is expected to consider giving outgoing City Manager John Avila more than $12,000 in severance pay, but it’s still unclear whether Avila is leaving voluntarily or involuntarily.
Councilman Morris Madrid, a former city manager himself, is asking that the council consider giving Avila two months of pay after he leaves Friday, but other council members question the proposal.
Nearly two weeks ago, Mayor Henry Sanchez announced at a council meeting that Avila would leave the city but stay through the March 4 municipal election. The next morning, he called the Optic to say Avila would stay only through the end of the month, but minutes later, he revised that to Friday, saying he misread his calendar.
After the meeting, Avila, who makes $75,000 a year, said his departure was not a resignation but he declined to elaborate.
Council members asked the mayor during the meeting if Avila was resigning or being fired, but Sanchez didn’t directly answer. The next day he called it a “mutual agreement.”
Madrid said it was never resolved during Avila’s hiring in 2005 whether he would get severance pay, but he said council members involved in the decision at the time said the issue had been discussed.
“It was never defined and made clear and never made as an action when he was hired,” Madrid said.
Avila was hired after a council majority had fired Madrid but before voters elected Madrid to the council.
Madrid said that while the severance pay issue is a valid item for a closed council session, he preferred that it stay in the open.
Madrid, a close ally of Sanchez, said he expects to see a letter of resignation from Avila by the time of the council’s vote on Wednesday. Madrid said he received three months of severance pay when he was fired in January 2005.
Mayor Henry Sanchez said Madrid wanted “everything out in the open.” The mayor said after he hears council members’ views, he would make a recommendation on severance pay.
“We’re not doing anything out of the ordinary. The council will decide,” he said.
Sanchez said Avila was leaving voluntarily.
Councilman Louie Trujillo said Sanchez needs to clarify what has happened with Avila.
“It still remains unclear. No one has made an affirmative statement either way. The mayor has not been upfront about this issue,” he said.
Trujillo said more discussion would be needed before the city would “sign away” money for severance pay.
Councilman Cruz Roybal said he didn’t think Avila was being fired, adding that there “always is a lot of rhetoric.” He said he didn’t blame Avila for not living in Las Vegas. Avila has stayed in a local apartment during the week but has gone to Albuquerque to be with his family during the weekends.
Roybal said it’s not the newspaper’s business whether Avila is resigning or being fired because it’s the city manager’s personal life.
Councilman Macario Gonzalez said he expects Madrid’s proposal to be “hotly debated.”
“I would certainly favor something for the man (Avila). He left on short notice. It’s going to take him a while to find employment,” he said.
But Gonzalez said he wasn’t sure yet what amount Avila should get.
Councilman Tony Marquez said that if Avila resigns or leaves voluntarily, he loses some rights to unemployment benefits and programs. “I hope he understands that,” he said.
He called Madrid’s proposal a “buyout of a nonexistent contract,” noting that the city manager has never had a contract.
“I have not seen anything in writing other than the mayor’s unclear comments at the council meeting,” Marquez said.
Councilwoman Diane Moore said she, too, had questions about Madrid’s proposal. She said she still wondered if Avila is resigning or being fired.
“I will not support this if this was a political move by the mayor,” she said.
Moore said such an action is not appropriate just weeks before a city election and before the expected release of the audit of the city’s natural gas utility. “The mayor has never called me about this, but that does not surprise me either,” she said.
Avila didn’t return messages for comment.