The Coconino County manager has resigned with a severance agreement that will pay her a lump sum of $88,600 and a $10,000 contribution to her deferred compensation plan, among other stipulations.
The county’s board of supervisors accepted Cynthia Seelhammer’s resignation and approved the severance agreement on Tuesday.
The board didn't offer an explanation for why Seelhammer will receive the nearly $99,000 in severance compensation for a voluntary resignation.
Board president Matt Ryan said Seelhammer had mentioned the idea of leaving the county over the holidays and turned in a letter announcing her intent to resign about four days ago.
Seelhammer was hired in 2013. On Tuesday, she said she was not sure what the future would hold, but told county employees she was grateful for the opportunity to work with them. Before she joined the county, Seelhammer worked for the company Interim Public Management.
After the board's decision, Seelhammer did not return requests for comment on her future plans or why exactly she decided to leave the county.
Ryan complimented her work on professional development for employees, her leadership in the 2014 tax measure to increase funding for county roads and the purchase of state trust land at Fort Tuthill.
Seelhammer has an annual contract, Ryan said, and her last employment agreement was signed June 20, 2017. The board was in the midst of a yearlong review of Seelhammer’s performance but hadn’t completed it before she announced her resignation, county spokesman Matt Rudig said.
The severance agreement commits the county to providing a positive reference about Seelhammer to other potential employers “highlighting her accomplishments in the position of County Manager.”
“Further, the parties agree to release a statement stating: ‘The Coconino County Board of Supervisors and County Manager have reached an understanding on the services of the County Manager and the Manager will be leaving per the terms of a severance agreement on January 9th to pursue other professional opportunities,’” the agreement stated.
Much of that language is standard for severance agreements, said George Pettit, a professor of practice at the school of public affairs at Arizona State University. The six months in severance pay that Seelhammer will receive “isn’t uncommon,” Pettit said.
The board of supervisors appointed the county’s special initiatives director to serve as interim county manager. James Jayne started working at Coconino County in August after spending 14 years at Navajo County where he was the county manager.
His years in the manager position led supervisors to choose him to temporarily fill Seelhammer’s role, Ryan said.
Ryan said nothing in Jayne's interim contract precludes him from applying for the permanent county manager position.
When he was at Navajo County, Jayne said he wasn’t specifically looking to leave his job. But he said Seelhammer reached out to him and they talked over a period of time “about what capacity I could bring to Coconino County,” Jayne said in an interview Tuesday.
Ryan said Jayne is well-respected in county management around the state. The board was creating a new economic development position around the same time the county was given the opportunity to recruit Jayne, Ryan said. The board originally allocated $77,000 per year for that position. But the role Jayne ended up filling was expanded and modified to become a lead management position with a much higher salary: $152,699. He was the only finalist to be considered for the job, Rudig wrote in an email. Jayne's salary as interim county manager is now $170,000, while Seelhammer's was $177,199.98, according to a public records request made last year.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, a former Navajo County supervisor, had good things to say about Jayne’s previous work as county manager.
He is wonderful at organizing, team work and building employee morale, Allen said.
Jason Whiting, a current Navajo County supervisor, called Jayne one of the strongest managers in the state of Arizona. The county has been facing an ongoing financial struggle with the closure of the paper mill in Snowflake and the closure of one unit at Cholla Power plant. The county’s most recent budget cut $2.5 million in spending and added a 5-cent property tax increase.
Whiting said that during budget discussions and on other matters, Jayne would offer a well-informed opinion that was well-researched with good data.
Matt Ryan said the county has not yet begun a recruitment process to find Seelhammer’s permanent replacement.