As last Tuesday's Hope City Board meeting was officially ending, Mayor Steve Montgomery announced the board was going into a closed Executive Session to consider a Performance Review of City Manager Catherine Cook, but coming out of that private session, which lasted 45 minutes, Montgomery said that a special City Board meeting would be called for next Tuesday, August 22, for another presumedly closed Executive Session to again discuss Cook's review.
As last Tuesday’s Hope City Board meeting was officially ending, Mayor Steve Montgomery announced the board was going into a closed Executive Session to consider a Performance Review of City Manager Catherine Cook, but coming out of that private session, which lasted 45 minutes, Montgomery said that a special City Board meeting would be called for next Tuesday, August 22, for another presumedly closed Executive Session to again discuss Cook’s review.
At the City Board’s first meeting of August, which was August 1, the City Board had also gone into a 28-minute closed session to discuss Cook, so to date, the City Board has devoted approximately one-hour and 13 minutes of closed sessions to Cook’s evaluation with no public input or information.
In the two previous sessions, August 1 and August 15, no public input regarding Cook’s performance was either solicited or evident, even though Cook is widely known and regarded as the most powerful figure in Hope city government for the past 25 years.
However, as City Manager, Cook is also not elected nor subject to direct accountability to the voters or residents of Hope the same way other area public officials are, including such noteworthy and powerful figures as the County Judge, Sheriff or even the state’s Governor.
And, curiously shrouded from the public scrutiny, even as a “public employee,” Cook’s contract, which was approved by the Hope City Board, says “the evaluation of the Employee shall at all times be conducted in executive session of the governing body and shall be considered confidential to the extent permitted by law.”
The Hope City Board of Directors current employment two-year contact with Cook is dated Sept. 20, 2016 and provides for a 12-month notice, if the Board chooses not to retain her services.
However, a separate “Severance Clause” says “If the Employee is terminated, the Employer shall provide a minimum severance payment equal to 12 months salary at the current rate of pay. This severance shall be paid in a lump sum or in continuation of salary on the existing weekly basis, at the Employee’s option.”
Under the terms of Cook’s current pact, the one presumedly being reviewed behind closed doors by the City Board, Cook is paid an annual base salary of $88,650, which is specified as “Payable in installments at the same time that the other employees of the Employer are paid.”
There is also a cause, which specifies “in no event shall the Employee be paid less than the salary set forth in Section 3A of the Agreement except by mutual written agreement between the employer and employee.”
Cook’s professional expenses, bonding, and indemnification are also provided for in full by the City of Hope as specified in the contract, and the pact also provides for certain “outside consulting or teaching opportunities.”
The pact also says the City of Hope “agrees to provide and to pay the premiums for health, vision, dental insurances for the Employee and his/her dependents…”
The pact also provides for a vehicle allowance, paid in monthly installments, in the amount of $5,700 per year. Equaling $475 per month, the allowance effectively means the City of Hope pays Cook’s monthly car note on her vehicle.
In Hope’s unique Council-Manager form of government, Cook as the City Manager has total daily operational authority over the City of Hope, including hiring and firing authority over all other city employees including the Police Chief, the Fire Chief and Public Works Director.
The seven-member Hope City Board of Directors is not a traditional “City Council,” but does act as a policy and legislative branch, but it only oversees the City Manager much in the way a major corporation’s Board of Directors oversees a CEO, which essentially is how Cook functions.