By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Hamilton County commissioners and their top administrator agreed to a new contract Wednesday that reduces his potential severance benefits by $263,000.
"The public is being protected through this document," Commissioner Todd Portune said.
The contract will enable Administrator David Krings to collect pay and benefits worth about $345,000 if he is fired for reasons other than criminal misconduct or gross negligence related to his job.
It replaces a contract passed Dec. 30 that would have given him $608,000 if even one commissioner suggested he resign. The contract drew objections from Auditor Dusty Rhodes, Commissioner Phil Heimlich and some voters when the Enquirer revealed its provisions in January.
Heimlich cast the only vote against the new contract Wednesday, saying it's still too generous.
"My purpose is to prevent David Krings from getting a windfall at taxpayer expense, whether it's a $345,000 windfall or a $608,000 windfall," he said.
As Heimlich repeatedly questioned Portune's and Commissioner John Dowlin's intentions with the original contract, Portune interrupted to ask Heimlich if he is a member of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes.
COAST, a political action committee that has sued the county over the Krings contract, subpoenaed the commissioners and several other officials Tuesday for a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court hearing on a temporary restraining order.
"In essence you're doing their work ahead of this hearing that's been scheduled for Friday," Portune said.
Heimlich said he did not know if he'd paid his dues, but "I am very closely affiliated to COAST, no question."
Chris Finney, a spokesman for COAST, also said he did not know if Heimlich is a current member.
The hearing may be canceled because of Wednesday's action, Finney said, but COAST will continue to pursue its suit. The group wants attorneys' fees and a declaration from the court on the legality of allowing one commissioner's comments to trigger the severance clause - as the Dec. 30 contract did.
The clause has been removed, but Finney said he's not impressed with the new contract.
"It sounds like it's still overpriced and bloated," he said.
Krings said a substantial severance package provides job security for an administrator who serves at the pleasure of the commissioners.
"I think particularly for the chief officer it is important that there not be an impediment to me telling you when you're wrong," he said in response to questions from Heimlich.
The contract may not be the final deal, Portune stressed. Additional negotiations are set for March 24.
"This serves as the starting point," he said.
Heimlich, however, said Krings will have little incentive to reduce his compensation once the new contract is in place.
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