The Columbus City Council on Tuesday officially approved a settlement agreement with Columbus Police Department Assistant Chief Joe Johnson, making his salary the fourth-highest among city department heads.
The council earlier agreed to give Johnson a salary raise of $10,000 a year and $32,500 in cash to settle his racial discrimination lawsuit against the city, but the matter was not officially voted on until Tuesday night.
The salary increase puts Johnson at $64,000 a year, until he retires, a rate now higher than all but three of the city”s leaders — Mayor Robert Smith ($76,500), Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong ($71,070) and Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John ($72,100).
In comparison, Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernson”s salary is $61,800 a year; Human Resources Director Pat Mitchell”s salary is $53,294.73 a year; Fire Chief Ken Moore”s salary is $61,800 a year; Director of Federal programs and Inspections George Irby”s salary is $55,557.17 a year; City Property Manager Frank Goodman”s salary is $51,646 a year; Garage Manager Woodrow Clark”s salary is $50,715.14 a year; Information Technology Administrator Matt Manley”s salary is $35,000 a year; and Municipal Court Judge Curtis Austin”s salary is $45,526 a year.
Attorneys for the city and Johnson have been in negotiations for some time, proposing various offers and counter-offers. One of the proposals to settle the lawsuit — from Johnson and his attorney, Jim Waide of Tupelo — was for $45,000 and a salary increase, reported Columbus Mayor Robert Smith, noting the city”s most recent “one-time only” counter-offer was for $32,500, which includes attorney”s fees and expenses, and the salary increase. Johnson has worked for the department since 1974.
The city”s liability insurer paid for the $32,500 payment; the settlement terms also included a stipulation Johnson cannot file similar lawsuit against the city, if he is not chosen as police chief in the future, said City Attorney Jeff Turnage.
“If the position came available and Mr. Johnson applied, but was not selected, he would agree not to institute another action against the city,” he explained of Johnson”s acceptance of the terms.
The council voted 5 to 1 to approve the settlement terms; Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin voted against the motion.
“I think the pay increase is out of line with what we currently pay city employees,” Gavin said. “I think we”ll be opening ourselves up for other problems.”
In 2007, less than a month after a federal jury found the city did not racially discriminate against Johnson in the 2003 hiring of former Police Chief J.D. Sanders, Johnson filed a second lawsuit.
The second suit alleged, among other things, the city sought outside applicants for the chief”s position and would not promote Johnson, who was serving as assistant chief, because of Johnson”s “race and because of the fact (Johnson) has filed an Equal Opportunity charge and a racial discrimination suit.”
According to court documents, the city asserted “three legitimate reasons” for not hiring Johnson — he was less qualified than current Police Chief Joseph St. John, his performance was “poor,” and he was “part of the long-term dysfunctional leadership of the Columbus Police Department.”
Following the resignation of Sanders, in 2006, Johnson was appointed interim chief; he had previously served as interim chief prior to Sanders” hiring.
On June 18, 2007, a federal jury found the city had not discriminated against Johnson by not hiring him as chief in 2003; the council voted to hire St. John on July 2, 2007.
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