FARGO —The Fargo Park District on Tuesday, July 9, released details of a severance agreement with former executive director Joel Vettel that provides Vettel with six months of salary worth about $75,000 plus benefits through the end of 2019.
The terms of the agreement were essentially agreed to at a special meeting of the park district board on July 2, at which the board accepted Vettel's resignation and appointed Dave Leker as interim executive director, according to a draft of the minutes of the special meeting, which was released Tuesday.
Attorney Greg Selbo, who provides legal representation for the park district, said Tuesday that the purpose of the special meeting July 2 was a job performance review for Vettel.
However, Selbo said prior to the special meeting Vettel asked for and was granted a meeting with park district board President Rusty Papachek, which took place on Monday, July 1.
Selbo said at that meeting, which he attended as well, Vettel said he intended to resign as executive director and asked for a severance package.
Selbo said the July 2 special meeting of the park district board was largely a discussion of what the separation agreement would look like, and he said since then an agreement has been signed by park district officials and Vettel, though he said Vettel will technically have about a week during which to change his mind.
Under the agreement, the park district will pay Vettel his regular salary until the end of the year payable bi-weekly at about $6,178 per two-week period. The payment will be less income tax and other withholdings and deductions.
Accrued vacation time is to be paid in a lump sum at the end of the year. The agreement said Vettel had 134 hours of vacation time at the time of his resignation and he will not accrue additional hours.
The district will also continue to pay Vettel's health insurance until the end of the year — estimated to be about $1,184 a month — as well as his retirement benefit at the rate of about $1,105 a month.
Part of the agreement under the heading, "no public statement", reads that no formal announcement would be made by the park district regarding Vettel's resignation and, if asked, the district will state that Vettel voluntarily resigned effective July 2.
The agreement also calls for the severance agreement itself to remain confidential and not be discussed by either Vettel or the elected Park Board members. North Dakota’s open meetings law, however, required that it be disclosed when The Forum requested it since it involves taxpayer money and the district is a taxing entity.
As executive director, Vettel oversaw the equivalent of about 700 full-time employees and an annual budget of about $27 million. Vettel's job with the park district started with a salary of $145,000 in 2016.
Since the July 2 meeting, park district officials and Vettel have been silent on why Vettel chose to resign.
Vettel issued a written statement on Wednesday, June 3, but it shed little light on what precipitated his departure from the job he held for about three years.
Vettel replaced former executive director Roger Gress, who retired at the end of 2016 after 20 years with the park district.
Before becoming executive director, Vettel had served on the park district board about a dozen years, serving twice as board president.
In the written statement Vettel released on July 3, he stated he had taken the job with a "vision and dream of improving upon our wonderful park district."
"This was a huge undertaking and I recognize I had huge shoes to fill," Vettel wrote in the statement, adding that he had done the job to the best of his ability but felt he could "no longer continue in the role as executive director."
Asked for comment this week, Vettel said in a text message that he was spending quality time with his family and looking forward to assisting with the USA Wrestling Tournament set for next week at the Fargodome.
"This event is special to me, and I have had the privilege of working with the tournament for over 25 years," Vettel said.
He added that he has made no decisions involving his professional future.
"My family and I will always be strong supporters of this wonderful community, and I look forward to finding new ways to continue to serve," Vettel said.
Vettel's interim replacement, Dave Leker, most recently served as the park district's deputy director.
When Vettel was chosen as executive director of the park district, he and Leker were the two finalists for the job.
The special meeting held July 2 lasted about an hour and a half. The agenda for the meeting had one item listed, which was described as "HR/Staff Review."
While no official information has been disclosed that would underscore possible issues between Vettel and other park district officials, two park district supervisors left the park district during Vettel's tenure, including Jim Larson, who had worked for the park district for about 25 years, most recently as director of finance.
Larson is now finance director for the city of West Fargo.
The other supervisor who left under Vettel's tenure was Jenny Satter, who headed human resources for the park district.
Larson declined to talk about the recent shakeup at the park district, but he said much was accomplished during the 25 years he worked for the park district, particularly, he said, the years he worked for Roger Gress.
Vettel came to the park district job after a long career in the Fargo Police Department, which he joined in 1997.