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City paid $55,000 for Worthy's exit

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By Travis Jenkins

Former City Administrator Sandi Worthy’s exit from her position cost the City of Chester a total of $55,000, according to documents obtained by the News & Reporter through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Worthy’s resignation was officially accepted on April 21, 2017, though she had actually not been on the job for several weeks prior, having taken an extended medical leave. According to her negotiated “resignation and release in full” agreement, the city paid Worthy a lump sum of $44,000, “representing wages, with appropriate withholdings.” That is more than half of the $76,400 the city currently lists as the salary for its still-vacant administrator position.

Additionally, the city paid a lump sum of $11,000 to Worthy’s legal representation, Gaffney, Lewis & Edwards. The agreement notes that Worthy had exhausted all accumulated leave time and would not receive any additional payment as a result. Worthy’s healthcare insurance was paid only through April 30, at which point COBRA benefits were made available to her.

The city agreed not to appeal any eligibility determination by the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce for Worthy’s potential unemployment compensation benefits.

The two sides made a number of concessions in the agreement, including that neither party would criticize the other.

“Ms. Worthy expressly agrees that she will not make any disparaging remarks regarding the city, its operations, and it past and present council members, employees and agents. Further, Ms. Worthy agrees to refrain from contacting council members, employees and agents to discuss her employment with the city or any of the circumstances surrounding her departure. In turn, the city expressly agrees not to make any disparaging remarks regarding Ms. Worthy or to discuss her employment with the city or any of the circumstances surrounding her departure.”

In the future, the city will only provide neutral work references for Worthy, essentially providing only her beginning and ending dates of employment and her position held. Worthy will direct any prospective employer to direct their inquiries to City Labor Attorney Joanie Winters for those references.

The agreement assures that Worthy’s nearly four-year stint as administrator will be her last job with the city, noting that she waived “all claims and rights to any past, present, or future position of employment with the city or any affiliated entity” and that she agreed “not to apply for employment in the future with the city or any affiliated entity.”

There will also be no future legal action in regards to Worthy’s departure. Per the agreement, Worthy “intends to and does hereby release and covenant not to sue the city, the city’s past and present council members both in their role as council members and as individuals, past and present employees and agents, an any other persons, agencies, firms, or corporations affiliated with the city, of and from any and all causes of action and claims, from the beginning of time to the date this agreement is executed…or in any way arising out of or in connection with her employment or other relationship with the city or the cessation of her employment with the city.” That comes “in consideration of the above referenced payment to her.”

Other language was fairly standard for exit agreements, including that Worthy would return all equipment, credit cards, keys, her vehicle and other items belonging to the city. She was also required to provide the city with all passwords, passcodes, security codes, usernames and electronic entry codes and agreed not to disclose any “proprietary, trade secrets or confidential information to any third party” obtained during her time of employment with the city. She agreed that she had been fully compensated, had not suffered any on-the-job injuries for which she had not already filed a claim under workers compensation benefits for and that the city had “complied with and performed all duties that it may have owed her at any time.” The agreement also has a provision that both sides agreed not to disclose the terms of Worthy’s resignation and release to any person “except as may be required by law,” such as the News & Reporter’s FOIA request.

At the time of her resignation, Worthy told the News & Reporter she came to the decision to resign during her medical leave.

“After being away for over a month, it became evident to me that progress in the city needed to continue. There are many great things on the horizon for the city and I didn’t want my absence to hinder any potential growth,” she said.

She indicated that she would soon be ready to pursue “a new adventure” and said she planned to travel this summer with her sister Allison Feaster, who recently moved to North Carolina after playing professional basketball overseas for more than 15 years. Worthy said she was enrolled at Clemson University where she hoped to complete courses towards a Masters in Public Administration and possibly her PhD. Last month, she was one of two announced finalists for the Abbeville County director job, though the position ultimately went to a local candidate.

Worthy listed a number of accomplishments achieved during her tenure. She said she developed an economic incentives toolkit for small business owners and historic property owners, which she said the council has been deliberating for a year-and-a-half. She helped introduce the idea of a hospitality tax to defray the cost of events that draw tourists to the city and a Sunday alcohol sales referendum (which passed) that increased revenue to the city. Worthy said she spearheaded the first comprehensive planning process for land use in the city since 1998, developed a city mulch site which resulted in cost savings and revenue production, successfully transitioned city property tax collection to the county, collaborated with the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation to stabilize, place easements on and market significant but dilapidated historic homes in the city, reinstated centralized grant writing and facilitated a grant for the Smithsonian’s “Way We Worked” traveling exhibit (which just wrapped up its six-week stay in Chester). She said she was just as proud of smaller accomplishments, like streamlining the process of cleaning streets, curbs and sidewalks, and purchasing new “one-armed bandit” garbage trucks, which sped up garbage collection and requires fewer staff members to operate.

Worthy and Chester City Council were sometimes at odds and that seemed to be a more regular occurrence later in her tenure. The council decided to go against the wording of the handbook it approved in relation to department head hires, for example. The listed procedure in the handbook was to have the administrator and human resources director review all applications, cull those that didn’t meet minimum requirements (or that were red-flagged for some reason) and then give the rest to the council for consideration. The council initially decided a committee should review them as well, then changed course again and decided that everyone on council should get every application whether they met qualifications or not. Council members said they made the move because they believed qualified candidates were being unfairly eliminated from the candidate’s pool.

At the final council meeting Worthy attended (in February), the council voted to nullify a “recruiting and standards” position she was attempting to create. Worthy felt the position was essential because she said the police department was struggling with both training and officer retention. She also got into a lengthy, sometimes heated, discussion with Mayor George W. Caldwell last year over whether or not it was her place to evaluate and discipline city employees.

The council has not named an interim city administrator, though HR Director Carla Roof has been put in charge of day-to-day operations at City Hall. The council has indicated it wants to be ready to move forward with selecting candidates for a full-time administrator later this month.