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City manager gets walking papers

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

In the end, George Campbell didn’t have the votes to stay on as Denton’s city manager.

He resigned effective midnight July 1.

A deeply divided City Council voted early Wednesday morning 4-3 to let him go, although there are few clues why.

Council members Kevin Roden, Dalton Gregory and Joey Hawkins gave glowing assessments of Campbell’s performance as they opposed the move. Mayor Chris Watts also complimented Campbell on his service and career.

But in the end, Watts and council members Kathleen Wazny, Keely Briggs and Sara Bagheri voted to give Campbell, 72, a “notice of non-renewal.”

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Campbell said Tuesday had been a long day for him.

“I met with the staff earlier in the day,” Campbell said. “It wasn’t easy for me.”

He declined to comment further, pointing instead to documents the council approved: the letter of non-renewal and a separation agreement. Campbell also released his resignation letter.

After the split vote over Campbell’s contract, the council voted 7-0 to approve a separation agreement. The council finalized the six-page agreement during a two-hour work session Tuesday afternoon.

The agreement provides for $376,299.64 in severance pay, delivered to Campbell in a lump sum on July 2. Campbell’s contract afforded him certain protections should his employment end, but he waived those claims in the separation agreement.

He also agreed to serve as a consultant to a yet-to-be-named interim city manager through Sept. 30. For that, the council agreed to pay Campbell an additional $89,641.52.

The council also agreed to make a $38,494.76 payment to Campbell’s life insurance carrier.

Before the vote, Hawkins read prepared remarks, telling Campbell how much he and the city staff respected him.

“I think you are excellent at spotting talent, mentoring and believing in people, sometimes before they believe in themselves,” Hawkins said. “I don’t necessarily agree with you leaving.”

Gregory, too, read prepared remarks, saying Campbell did a great job following the goals and directions of the City Council. Calling him creative and innovative, Campbell helped Denton sail through the economic downturn that began in 2008, Gregory said.

“It was due to the experience and the skill of our city manager,” Gregory said. “I’ll miss you.”

In off-the-cuff remarks, Roden called Campbell a great leader.

“You’ve been a great mentor to me, even though that’s not the role [of a city manager],” Roden said. “You’ve been candid with me about my own role, as a City Council member, and helped shape my perspective on the city of Denton.”

Watts, too, complimented Campbell on leading the city through the economic downturn with innovation and conviction.

“You are the consummate professional,” Watts said. “You have taught me so much about city government and policy-making. You’re a great man.”

Watts gave no clues during the meeting why he voted not to renew Campbell’s contract. Nor did the other council members.

In interviews Wednesday, Wazny and Bagheri declined to comment on why they voted to dismiss Campbell, citing confidential personnel matters.

Briggs, who made the motion to dismiss Campbell, said the city manager had been a great leader and was great with employees. She said she appreciated his years of service, but it was time to turn the page.

Briggs had been publicly critical of a consultant’s report on a Denton Municipal Electric plan to walk away from coal-fired power.

Campbell had recommended the Brattle Group over two other energy analyst groups to provide the independent review City Council members had asked for.

Briggs has said she expected to see other options in the report, but those options were either omitted or not fully addressed by the Brattle Group.

The controversial plan includes the city’s largest-ever capital purchase: $265 million for 12 natural-gas-fired engines and the power plant to house them.

The separation agreement contains a clause in which Campbell and council members agree not to say anything willfully disparaging or denigrating of each other.

Campbell has served as Denton’s city manager for nearly 10 years. Previously, he was city manager in Arlington, Coppell and Weatherford. He and his wife, Sandra, live in Denton.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.