Newly elected Billings City Council member Joy Stevens is catching a lot of heat here for her Outpost column suggesting that Tussing's employment contract go before a judge. Some of the criticism is misplaced.
One thing some critics overlook is that the police chief's severance agreement was designed in part to protect Kristoff Bauer and Tina Volek from retaliation. Bauer's a dead issue now, but Volek isn't, and if the contract does in fact provide her some legal protection, then the council is obliged to demand that the contract be honored. That's true, I think, no matter what the public wants. You can't sign off on a deal to protect an employee's interests, then ignore it because you decide you don't want to be bothered.
The larger issue of whether Tussing is an employee I will leave to the lawyers. But as I understand it, Tussing has said that he agreed to the deal only because he understood that he could still run for office. If he's telling the truth -- and I have no reason to suspect that he isn't -- then why didn't the city understand that? It's not like Tussing was going to come back and apply to be landfill supervisor. Why wouldn't it have occurred to the city's lawyers to include the one provision most likely to blunt any threat to Bauer's and Volek's future employment?
On the other hand, I don't think much of a deal that would pay an employee a clearly merited severance only if he promised to sacrifice his right to seek public office. That has a definite odor. Could that be why the contract didn't specifically address that issue? Maybe the city hoped to dodge a bullet. Hello, bullet.