Government & Politics

JoCo city’s top administrator resigns. Her severance could be $350K

Cheryl Harrison
Cheryl Harrison

Cheryl Harrison-Lee, the top administrator for the city of Gardner, a fast-growing Johnson County suburb 30 miles south of Kansas City, has resigned, the city announced Friday.

But her departure could cost the city a hefty sum. A proposed separation agreement to pay her $350,000 goes to the City Council for a vote Monday night.

Harrison-Lee could not be reached for comment.

She had been placed on administrative leave at the end of August under mysterious circumstances, with the mayor and city council members refusing to comment about what they termed a “personnel matter.”

On Friday, the city issued a press release saying Harrison-Lee had resigned effective Sept. 10. The announcement went on to praise her contributions to the city since she was hired in 2012, especially in the areas of strategic planning and economic development.

Gardner is one of Johnson County’s fastest growing cities, with a population of more than 21,000. It has recently attracted a new hotel and conference center, along with a multimillion-dollar manufacturing and distribution center for a California-based educational supply company.

“On behalf of the city, I want to thank Cheryl for her contribution in positioning Gardner for business expansion and economic growth,” Mayor Steve Shute said in a statement. “She helped set the framework, and we will continue to build upon her legacy to see our complete vision come to fruition.”

Shute declined further comment when reached by phone Friday evening.

On Monday night, the city council will consider approving a separation agreement and full release between the city of Gardner and Harrison-Lee.

It calls for paying her $261,569 in severance pay, $85,931 for unused vacation hours and $2,500 for a claim waiver under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The city would also agree to pay her COBRA health insurance payments for 18 months, either in a lump sum or monthly.

Harrison-Lee was named city administrator in July 2012, and the city council voted in 2016 to extend her employment contract for another four years. Her base salary at the time of the contract extension was $161,000, and she was entitled to annual increases based on meeting performance expectations.

But a new council term began this past January, with a new mayor and several new council members. Some observers said the new leaders wanted to make some changes.

The city will accept an award for performance management from the International City/County Management Association in Baltimore later this month, and supporters had credited Harrison-Lee with being instrumental in that award. The separation agreement notes that the city had previously paid for her airfare and registration for that conference. The city will not seek reimbursement for those costs and will pay her lodging expenses at that conference.

On Monday night, the city council will consider appointing Finance Director Laura Gourley as interim city administrator. It will also begin a process for a nationwide search to fill the administrator position.

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