Warner Robins council agrees to settle with mayor’s former assistant

chwright@macon.comNovember 4, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- A looming lawsuit from the mayor’s former executive assistant evaporated Monday when City Council agreed to a separation agreement, according to City Attorney Jim Elliott.

Council unanimously agreed to allow Faye Coulter to retire, effective Oct. 31, and requires “she execute a release of any claims.” Coulter will receive payment for sick leave and accumulated annual leave in what she alleged was a forced retirement deal but not the $500,000 she requested in a March notice to sue.

Coulter claimed in the notice to the city of her intent to sue that she had been forced into retirement after allegedly enduring years of verbal abuse from Mayor Chuck Shaheen and discrimination based on her health and age. She initially asked for $500,000.

“If I would have wanted to retire, I know the procedure,” Coulter wrote in a March email to city officials about her departure. “There would have been tears of joy instead of tears of sorrow.” She could not be reached for comment Monday.

Coulter was placed on administrative leave while the claims were investigated.

An independent investigator interviewed 10 city employees and Coulter about the allegations and an argument between Shaheen and Coulter that led to an arranged retirement agreement. None of the employees said they witnessed harassment or discrimination, but most said tensions between Coulter and Shaheen had been rising.

“We had a third party, (a) former GBI agent, do a 10-story investigation,” Shaheen said after Monday’s council meeting. “There were no justifications for her claims. They went from a half a million dollars to zero, so not one employee justified her claims. I wish her the very best in her future endeavors.”

In the agreement, council agreed to pay Coulter 258 hours of sick leave. At the $31.62 an hour Coulter earned at the time she was placed on her administrative leave, that adds up to about $8,200. It was unclear Monday what will happen to the remaining sick leave Coulter says she accumulated. A copy of the agreement was not available, but Coulter reported in March she had nearly 1,600 hours of sick leave.

In addition, Coulter will receive payment for accumulated annual leave, typical of city retirement. It was unclear Monday evening how much that is.

Since Coulter has been on administrative leave, she has earned more than $40,000.

According to two October letters to Coulter’s attorney, the city had been attempting to end her leave. The Telegraph obtained the letters through the Georgia Open Records Act.

In an Oct. 15 letter, Elliott told attorney John Waters the investigation found no basis for Coulter’s claims, and since she stated she wasn’t ready to retire, she should return to work Oct. 15. The letter also stated a Human Resources employee would take over Coulter’s administrative needs, since the investigation did reveal a strained relationship between Shaheen and Coulter.

In an Oct. 22 letter, Elliott told the attorney the council did not want to pay sick leave, as Coulter had been earning compensation for no work for the better part of seven months. If she didn’t agree, she was to return to work Nov. 6.

Then came Monday’s agreement.

Also at the council meeting, council voted to eliminate an unfilled part-time records technician in the police department and use the funds to upgrade a police department administrative assistant’s job classification.

Council also heard from a resident in the Rose Hill subdivision who wants to end construction of a crematorium behind his home. Shaheen and council members agreed to meet with the man about the legality and justifications of the crematorium business being built so closely to residential property.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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