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Lansing voters to decide on future of "golden parachutes" for top city appointees

Oct 30, 2015

Lansing voters may do away with “golden parachutes” for top city appointees.

Former BWL general manager J. Peter Lark received a $600,000 payout after he was fired earlier this year
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A charter amendment on next week’s ballot would limit executive contracts to one year and prevent large payouts. The proposal would allow the mayor and city council to make exceptions. 

The proposal was prompted by the more than $600,000 payout to the city’s former utility director after he was fired earlier this year.   

J. Peter Lark was hired as the general manager of the Lansing Board of Water & Light in 2007. The former chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission came under fire for BWL’s response to an ice storm in 2013. Forty percent of BWL’s customers lost power in the pre-Christmas storm. Thousands were still without electricity on New Year’s Day.

After numerous reports pointing out managerial and technical problems that contributed to the length of the power outage, BWL’s board fired Lark in January of this year. But it was months later before a final settlement on his severance was agreed to. 

Mayor Virg Bernero does not want another payout like that to happen again.

“You see it in… big corporate America, on Wall Street and so on,” says Bernero, “But I don’t think it’s appropriate where taxpayer dollars are concerned.”

Some have raised concerns that not allowing multi-year contracts with lucrative terms will make it harder for the city of Lansing to compete for top talent. 

But Bernero does not believe the city of Lansing will have a difficult time attracting top talent if the ban on “golden parachutes” is approved by voters.  

The charter amendment would apply to at-will employees, including mayoral appointees, city department directors, and all agencies, boards and commissions of the city.  

The charter amendment would only apply to contracts agreed to after January 1st, 2016.