Ousted public works official wanted bigger payout

Bainbridge’s former city engineering manager had hoped to get a severance package nearly twice the size of the one he got when he resigned from his position late last year, according to public records released by the city.

Bainbridge officials have declined to talk about the departure of Kenneth “Chris” Hammer, saying the city does not comment on personnel matters.

But according to documents recently released in response to public records request by the Review, it wasn’t Hammer’s idea to leave his city job.

While his separation agreement with the city notes that Hammer “decided to voluntarily separate from employment,” emails written by Hammer indicate that he was ousted by higher-ups at city hall.

The stage was set for Hammer’s departure from the city’s public works department in November, although the city did not confirm his separation until late December, via a response to a request for personnel documents from the Review.

Hammer did not immediately respond to a request for comment this week from the Review.

Newly released records show that Hammer was told in mid-November that the city wanted a new person in his position.

In an email to Public Works Director Chris Wierzbicki, Hammer said he had been given a separation agreement at the end of the workday on Friday, Nov. 15.

“It appears that I am being dismissed due to a preference by upper management to have a different person in my position,” Hammer wrote.

“I was not afforded an opportunity, in terms of a process, to address any concerns that management may have about my performance,” he added.

The original separation agreement included severance pay that included three months of base salary; $31,578. In the agreement, the city also agreed to not oppose unemployment benefits.

Hammer told Wierzbicki, in a Nov. 24 email, that he had talked to a local lawyer who specialized in employment law, and the attorney said the offer wasn’t enough.

“He advised that three months was a weak offer, and it would be more common for severance to include healthcare benefits,” Hammer wrote.

He also noted his attorney “indicated to me that it is not uncommon for employees with a tenure similar to mine, who are dismissed, to receive more than twice what is being offered.”

Hammer said he hoped to get a severance package that included seven months of gross wages.

Acting on the attorney’s advice, Hammer — who worked for the city of Bainbridge Island for more than 14 years — asked that the severance amount be increased to 28 weeks of gross wages, which would amount to approximately two weeks for each year worked.

“I have had discussions with another engineer in a similar position who was dismissed and had received a longer salary and healthcare severance package,” Hammer told Wierzbicki in the email.

Hammer also noted his age (he was 51 at the time) and said, “finding another equivalent job will be difficult. I deserve a better severance package.”

In the email, Hammer said he had been “a model employee in terms of hours worked and sick time balance maintained.”

He also noted that he had pulled in millions of dollars in grant funding to Bainbridge, and had helped keep costs in line for multiple city projects during his time with the city.

“I have effectively managed contracts to keep change orders in check including negotiating and successfully positioning the city to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars of claims on the Winslow Way Reconstruction Project, the Rockaway Beach Stabilization Project, and most recently the Sound to Olympics Phase 2/4 project. I may be the only employee at this city who can say that the value I have delivered to the city, in terms of additional funding procured, and value-added efficiencies and managing disputes, both far exceed the cost of my wages,” Hammer said in his email to the public works director.

“It’s amazing that given these and so many other significant accomplishments that this organization’s leadership would withhold a reasonable severance package.”

The city originally wanted Hammer out of his post by Dec. 6.

Following a counter-offer made to the city, the separation agreement was changed to push his last day of employment to Jan. 3.

A provision for paid administrative leave was added to the separation agreement, which gave Hammer his regular compensation and benefits from Dec. 9 through Jan. 3.

The severance agreement eventually signed by Hammer included three months of base salary, a total of $32,367, as well his salary for the time he was on paid administrative leave.

The city also agreed to cash out Hammer’s unused vacation time.

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