The West St. Paul City Council narrowly approved a separation agreement with former City Manager Matt Fulton on Monday night, revealing a deeply fractured council with distinct political alliances.
Two council members and the mayor insisted that Fulton, who served as city manager for three years and was asked to leave last week by several other council members, had been treated unfairly.
The separation agreement stipulates that Fulton will receive about $75,200 — half a year’s salary — over a six-month period, along with benefits. He’ll also be paid about $40,000 for 70 unused vacation days.
Monday’s meeting ended with each City Council member sharing their opinions about Fulton’s resignation.
“I believe our council in the last two years failed you as residents and we certainly failed Mr. Fulton,” said Council Member Dick Vitelli. “How can you expect a manager to be successful when you don’t give him any direction?”
Vitelli, along with Council Member Dave Napier and new Mayor Jenny Halverson, opposed Fulton’s exit, while the other four council members — including two who were just elected — wanted him to leave.
Vitelli praised Fulton while blaming former Mayor Dave Meisinger for refusing to participate in any planning activities with the council, which would have helped define Fulton’s job, he said.
West St. Paul has “a bit of a reputation” for going through city managers, Vitelli said, counting eight of them in the last 20 years.
Council Member John Bellows said Fulton has “a lot of very good qualities” and noted that he was limited from saying anything negative about Fulton by the separation agreement.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary to have a fresh start,” Bellows said, adding that he wanted to give council members credit for acting on their beliefs.
About three dozen residents attended the meeting. A handful spoke in Fulton’s defense.
Several people said they were frustrated that Fulton’s departure will cost the city so much money, while others said Fulton couldn’t have been fairly evaluated by the new council members.
Resident Doug Fromm called the council’s move “a pure political power play.”
“If you really want a fresh start, let’s learn to work together,” said Kevin Hendricks, another city resident.
The city and Fulton both have 15 days to rescind the deal. Five council members have formed a group to review and recommend candidates to serve as interim city manager, with interviews planned for next week, said Sherrie Le, assistant city manager.