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Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says he opposes former city manager T.C. Broadnax getting payout

In a memo, Johnson is asking City Attorney Tammy Palomino to determine whether Broadnax, who is now Austin’s city manager, should get more than $423,000 in severance pay from Dallas.

Update:
This is a developing story and will be updated.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson is asking the city’s top lawyer to determine whether former City Manager T.C. Broadnax should be receiving severance pay.

In a memo Tuesday to City Attorney Tammy Palomino, Johnson wrote he is against Broadnax, who is now city manager in Austin, from receiving any payout from the city and that he doesn’t believe his exit counts as an “involuntary separation.”

That term, according to Broadnax’s Dallas contract, allowed him to receive a lump-sum payment equal to his $423,246 annual salary when his employment with the city ended earlier this month.

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“While Mr. Broadnax’s agreement of employment stipulates that he would receive a severance payment if a majority of the Dallas City Council suggested he resign, the background and timeline of these events raise serious questions about the legitimacy of this alleged ‘involuntary separation,’” Johnson wrote in the memo.

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Johnson cites an April memo Broadnax sent to Palomino identifying the dates and times eight council members suggested he resign as city manager in February and a WFAA article that says Broadnax initiated his exit from Dallas.

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The mayor also raised concerns that Broadnax was named a finalist for the Austin city manager job about two weeks after his resignation as Dallas’ city manager was announced on Feb. 21, that he was formally announced as hired on April 4, and that Broadnax’s resignation occurred in the way it did to secure severance pay from the city.

“If this is indeed the case — as the available evidence currently supports — it is wholly inaccurate to characterize Mr. Broadnax’s separation as ‘involuntary,’” Johnson said. “Therefore, the severance clause of Mr. Broadnax’s agreement of employment should not apply and the city of Dallas should have no obligation to pay Mr. Broadnax nearly half a million dollars from Dallas’ taxpayers.”

Broadnax’s severance

In the memo, Johnson asked the city attorney to clarify whether Dallas should pay Broadnax a severance. Palomino didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday on her response to Johnson’s question. Johnson didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

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Shelley Parks, an Austin city spokesperson, declined to comment on behalf of Broadnax.

“Austin City Manager, T.C. Broadnax, will not be discussing the Dallas Mayor’s opposition to severance being paid,” Parks said.

According to Broadnax’s Dallas contract, the city must pay him a lump sum equal to 12 months of his base salary if there is an “involuntary separation” from his duties as city manager. He could also be in line to receive even more money in payouts tied to health care benefits and unused vacation days.

The contract defines what “involuntary separation” means. Two examples are if a City Council majority voted to fire Broadnax, or if he resigned at the formal or informal suggestion of the majority of the council.

Council member Zarin Gracey told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday that he supported following the terms of Broadnax’s Dallas contract.

“I understand [Mayor Johnson’s] doing what he feels is necessary, but in my opinion, T.C. was an excellent city manager and unfortunately, circumstances turned,” Gracey said. “For me, I think it’s about giving him what we’ve committed to giving.”

Council member Jaime Resendez said he believed Johnson had the right to seek clarity on the topic. “However, he missed an opportunity to do so on Feb. 27, 2024, during the City Council meeting discussing T.C. Broadnax’s resignation, as he was absent from the session,” Resendez said.

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The Feb. 27 meeting was when Kimberly Bizor Tolbert, Broadnax’s former chief of staff and a former deputy city manager, was appointed by the City Council as Dallas’ interim city manager. Johnson didn’t attend that meeting and also wasn’t present during a committee meeting the day before, when the rest of the council discussed interim city manager candidates in closed session.

The city is trying to evaluate search firms to oversee the search for a new permanent city manager.

The payout

The city has already factored the payout into its budget, city records show.

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According to a city budget accountability report released in March, Dallas officials were anticipating the city manager’s office being $446,000 over budget as of the end of January “due to forecasted termination payouts for the city manager and other salary expenses related to position classification actions to better meet department operations and executive support functions, partially offset by salary savings associated with vacant positions.”

In the latest available report released in April, that amount is down to $420,000 over budget as of the end of February.

The City Council last Wednesday unanimously approved city budget transfers that boosted the current general fund by almost $2.8 million. The increases included raising the city manager’s office budget by $419,797.

The city has repeatedly declined to tell The News how much Broadnax will receive. Broadnax began working as Austin city manager on May 6. He had been Dallas city manager since 2017.

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Don Kettl, a retired professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s school of public affairs, said Broadnax’s Dallas contract is typical for most city managers and noted that similar severance arrangements are recommended by the International City/County Management Association.

”The city manager’s job is extremely important but always tenuous because of what is often a very complex — and sometimes difficult — relationship with the City Council,” Kettl told The News. “To advance professional management in cities, many communities have gone to a council-manager form of government. To increase the incentives for professional managers to take such a position, the standard contract has safeguards for the manager.”

‘Backroom maneuvering’

Johnson has already publicly opposed the payout in an April edition of his email newsletter to residents. He also said he believed state lawmakers should prevent contract payout clauses for municipal government employees like Broadnax’s. In the newsletter, he referred to Broadnax’s exit as “backroom maneuvering.”

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Johnson was among a few of the 15-member City Council who have said publicly that they weren’t aware Broadnax was going to resign until it was announced. A city news release announced Broadnax’s resignation, as well as a joint news release from council members Adam Bazaldua, Gracey, Omar Narvaez, Resendez, Jaynie Schultz and Gay Donnell Willis saying the city manager was stepping down “at the suggestion of the majority of the Dallas City Council.”

A key reason for the suggestion was that the working relationship between Johnson and Broadnax “has not been conducive to effective governance and the advancement of Dallas’ interests,” the February news release from the council members said.

At least eight of the council’s 15 members could have voted to fire Broadnax, according to the terms of his contract. That tally is lower than what is required by the city’s charter, which says two-thirds of the City Council has to agree to remove a city manager.

Johnson led a public attempt to fire Broadnax in 2022 that ended in the two declaring a truce and the council approving a raise for Broadnax.

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“Two years ago, Mayor Johnson and three other members of the council had approached Mr. Broadnax to resign in a very public manner, bypassing our council procedures we had set for his review,” Narvaez told The News on Wednesday. “Had they been successful, this exact same severance clause would have been triggered then, too.”

Bazaldua and Resendez blasted Johnson’s newsletter in responses to The News in April with Bazaldua calling it “political posturing at its finest.”

”The difference in (2022) and now is that Mayor Johnson failed at his attempt and couldn’t build a consensus of a simple majority of our council to see it through,” Bazaldua told The News in April. “I think a better question is, would the mayor still have this whining tone had he been successful two years ago?”

Council member Paula Blackmon, who along with Resendez and Bazaldua were identified by Broadnax as council members who suggested he resign in February, told The News last month that the process was similar in 2022.

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“It wasn’t any different than two years ago because we had to coordinated eight votes then,” Blackmon told The News in April. “I don’t see any difference. It was just as coordinated as it was two years ago but the spearhead was different.”

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