Analysis: Park City manager’s sudden departure evokes memories of a 1990s City Hall separation
The sudden departure of Park City Manager Diane Foster on Tuesday left many stunned as the top staffer at the Marsac Building exited the municipal ranks without even a hint of public warning.
The departure, described by City Hall in a prepared statement as a separation, was unexpected at a moment when there seems to be widespread support of the local government’s agenda, which stresses issues like housing, sustainability and transportation.
The separation, initiated by Mayor Andy Beerman and the Park City Council, appears, at least early on, to be the most dramatic personnel move at the Marsac Building in a generation, since the late 1990s. There have been other highly important, and controversial, personnel moves in the intervening years, but not since the resignation of a Park City attorney in 1999 has there been one as striking as Foster’s departure.
Foster started her City Hall career in 2008, taking a post as the environmental sustainability manager before a promotion to deputy city manager and, finally, the city manager position in 2013. She has a private sector background with companies like American Skiing Company and Backcountry.com. Her six-plus years as the city manager were marked by progress on City Hall’s housing and environmental programs, a landmark long-term agreement with Sundance Film Festival organizers and the arrival of Vail Resorts as the owner of Park City Mountain Resort.
But the separation was a surprise move made in the final weeks of a Park City Council campaign with three seats on the ballot and as City Hall continues to aggressively pursue the development of workforce or otherwise affordable housing as well as environmental and transportation programs.
It was in the late 1990s when there was last such a personnel-related stunner at the Marsac Building. In the summer of 1999, a year when the same three City Council seats were on the ballot, Jodi Hoffman abruptly resigned as the city attorney in the period after the approval of the development that would be built as Empire Pass in Deer Valley. She had been the top attorney at the Marsac Building for six years and was one of the staffers who held a key role in the negotiations that led to an Empire Pass agreement involving the annexation of the land into the Park City limits and development rights.
Hoffman departed in August of that year after closed-door meetings at the Marsac Building. The resignation was announced in an unsigned prepared statement from City Hall. Neither side spoke in any detail about the resignation. Some of the elected officials of that era at the time publicly expressed gratitude for her service while others declined to comment, citing the personnel nature of the resignation. Hoffman said she loved the work at the Marsac Building but the timing was right to depart.
It was more than a month before City Hall provided some details about the Hoffman departure. In response to open-records requests filed by the media, officials that September, after preliminary resistance, released what had previously been a confidential resignation agreement between City Hall and Hoffman that also served as a release of claims. The agreement outlined a severance package that was valued at more than $80,000. The agreement called for an initial $40,000 payment to Hoffman and another $40,000 early in the next year. She was also given electronics as part of the agreement, and City Hall continued her medical and dental coverage at no cost to her for a year. She was paid for her unused vacation time and City Hall pledged cooperation with the management of her retirement plan.
The agreement also prohibited Hoffman from suing City Hall for a variety of causes, such as breach of contract and wrongful discharge. It placed her under a gag order that stretched until the beginning of 2002.
The Hoffman resignation and the revelation of the severance package added a layer of intrigue to the City Council campaign that year as voters sought information about the circumstances of the departure and then the severance package details, which amounted to roughly one year of her salary. Voters rejected the reelection bids of two incumbents that year while the third incumbent whose seat was on the ballot did not seek another term. The Hoffman resignation was seen as one of the issues that influenced voters.
There had not been another riveting departure at such a high level until Foster left City Hall. Two city managers — Toby Ross and Tom Bakaly — moved on from the Marsac Building in the time after Hoffman’s run as city attorney ended. Both of them were headed to new posts outside of Utah, providing ample notice to the mayor and City Councils in office when they left and affording them fitting community sendoffs as they readied to leave.
For Hoffman and, now, Foster, the final days at the Marsac Building were decidedly different in nature than those of Ross and Bakaly.
Just two prepared statements, written 20 years apart.
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It was an important decision since the rest of the talks will be heavily influenced by the processing option selected by the Planning Commission on Wednesday.