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Mayor's office says no payout for fired city employee

Councilman: Council employee should not have been fired

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The controversial firing of a Colorado Springs employee will not come with a severance package for the worker who was let go after two weeks on the job.

George Culpepper was city council's legislative assistant. One Colorado Springs city council member says he should not have been fired in the first place.

Councilman Don Knight told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that Culpepper did nothing wrong when he asked Alaska Airlines about passengers flying out of the Colorado Springs airport with marijuana. Culpepper's role was to do research for City Council. Based on e-mails obtained by KRDO NewsChannel 13, Culpepper was fired for contacting a representative at Alaska Airlines instead of the acting aviation director, Dan Gallagher.

"I think he was unjustly terminated," Knight said.  "He was doing something directly asked of him. This was not under his own initiative. He was doing something directly asked of him by (Council) President (Keith) King."

Knight said he believes Culpepper should have been retrained or perhaps disciplined in some way, but not fired.  Although Bach has the power to fire someone who works directly under City Council, Knight says he doesn't necessarily think Bach should exercise that right -- and not without input from City Council.  It's a discussion Knight hopes council will be able to hold in open session.

Bach has been criticized in the past for doling out severance packages. In a Target 13 investigation last year, KRDO NewsChannel 13 learned that Bach gave nearly $850,000 in severance packages to 26 employees between January 2011 and April 2013.  

On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, Mayor Bach's office told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that Culpepper will not receive a severance package from the city.

Knight said that he thinks Culpepper should receive some sort of payout.

"I hope he does get something because he gave up a job to get here," Knight said.  However, he believes the payout should come with transparency.

"That should be public," he said. "These non-disclosures, severance -- I don't like that at all."

Joshua Dunn is an associate professor at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs teaching political science.  He's been studying Colorado Springs' strong-mayor form of government and battles between City Council and the mayor and plans to write a book about it.  He says conflicts between the city's legislative and executive branches are inevitable and healthy.

"These conflicts were going to happen," Dunn said.  "The danger though for City Council and the mayor is the public gets tired of their disputes."

Dunn says that Bach may have the authority to withhold information from taxpayers for now, but eventually he will have to disclose where their money is going.

"If you're spending public money, there's a requirement that the public be able to see where their tax dollars are being spent."

The problem, Dunn says, is that withholding information can cause mistrust between the people and the mayor.

"The danger is it looks like you're trying to hide something."

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