A judge has ruled the severance provisions of a former Leavenworth County human resources director’s contract are void.

A judge has ruled the severance provisions of a former Leavenworth County human resources director’s contract are void.

The ruling concerning the severance provisions for former Human Resources Director Tamara Copeland was issued in writing last week by Senior Judge Edward Bouker. The ruling was made in a lawsuit that was filed last year on behalf of the Leavenworth County Commission to challenge several employment contracts.

Bouker’s ruling focused on a motion for a partial summary judgment concerning severance provisions.

Bouker denied the motion based on an argument from the County Commission’s attorneys that the provisions violated cash basis and budget laws. But the judge did find that the severance provisions extended beyond the term of the County Commission that approved the contracts and were an “attempt to improperly bind successor boards in matters incident to their own administration and responsibility.” Bouker ruled the provisions were contrary to public interest.

The petition filed last year that started the lawsuit challenged the contracts of Copeland, County Counselor Mollie Hill, Deputy County Counselor Andrea Hughes and Road and Bridge Superintendent Vincent Grier.

Grier later was dismissed from the lawsuit.

Copeland, Hill and Hughes, who filed counterclaims in the case, were terminated by the County Commission several months after the lawsuit was filed. Hill has since been hired to work for the Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Office.

In May, the County Commission reached settlements with Hill and Hughes, so Bouker’s ruling last week focused on Copeland’s five-year contract.

The contract called for Copeland to continue to receive her salary for the remainder of her contract period after her termination. Under the terms of the contract, Copeland also would have been entitled to continue to participate in her employee benefits.

But commissioners stopped paying Copeland her salary after she was terminated in October.

In his ruling, Bouker wrote that the “severance provisions are unusually favorable” to Copeland.

Bouker wrote that, under the terms of the contract, there were limited circumstances for which Copeland could be involuntarily terminated. Those included a felony conviction or fraud directly related to her duties.

“Conviction of a misdemeanor would be insufficient, regardless of the type of the misdemeanor and its relation to Copeland’s position,” the judge wrote.

Bouker also stated that insubordination would not be sufficient cause for involuntarily termination under the terms of the contract unless the insubordination amounted to non-performance of duties.

“Many types of malfeasance or misfeasance would not suffice,” the judge wrote.

The lawsuit was filed after the makeup of the County Commission changed in 2017 as Doug Smith replaced Dennis Bixby as the commissioner from the county’s 3rd District.

Bouker noted in his ruling that Copeland’s five-year contract was approved Sept. 1, 2016, which was after Smith defeated Bixby in a Republican primary.

Bouker wrote that the 2016 election of Smith changed the County Commission from one in which a majority favored the Copeland contract to one in which the majority disapproved.

The motion for the partial summary judgment also had asked the judge to set aside any claims by Copeland pursuant to the severance provision. But Bouker has not granted this request.

“The court requires additional argument and guidance as to the proper extent and nature of such a ruling and will entertain additional written and oral argument therein,” Bouker wrote.

The judge asked the parties to prepare arguments and he will schedule a hearing.

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