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Former BMHA executive director gets $107,250 in severance deal

Dawn E. Sanders-Garrett, the former executive director of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, was just awarded $107,250 – apparently the secret payment Sanders-Garrett and the BMHA agreed to prior to her sudden resignation March 15.

The payment came in the form of a "supplemental check" issued Thursday – two weeks after Sanders-Garrett resigned from her $120,000 position, according to the Buffalo city comptroller's office.

While a breakdown of the $107,250 payment was not available, the amount seems to fall in line with what Sanders-Garrett would have received if she was terminated without cause under her most recent contract. That contract, which expired in 2015, calls for a payment equal to 120 days of pay as well as a cash out of accrued benefits.

Sanders-Garrett, 50, served as housing authority executive director for almost 12 years when it was announced at the end of the BMHA's March 15 monthly meeting that she was resigning, effective immediately.

At the time, BMHA chairman David Rodriguez declined to disclose what, if any, financial package Sanders-Garrett was receiving upon resigning.

"The parties reached a confidential agreement acceptable to both parties," he said.

BMHA director resigns, agency refuses to disclose severance agreement

Rodriguez could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The Buffalo News filed a Freedom of Information request with the BMHA asking for a copy of  the agreement. The agency has not yet responded to that request.

Meanwhile, The News also filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the comptroller's office, which issues BMHA checks.

The comptroller's office confirmed Thursday that Sanders-Garrett was awarded $107,250 – with a portion of the funds mailed to her in a check dated Thursday, and the remainder, at her request, put in a state-sponsored retirement fund.

“If the executive director resigned of her own free will, why did the board give her a taxpayer-funded golden parachute," asked City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder. "Why are they so secretive about what they are doing with our tax dollars? This shadow government continues to operate with no accountability, no transparency, and an utter disregard for the taxpayers who pay its bills.”

The $107,250 was a "supplemental" check, separate from the final regular paycheck she also received Thursday. The regular check, for $1,846, covered her final week on the job, when she worked four days, for a total of 32 hours, according to the comptroller's office.

The final regular payroll check Sanders-Garrett received Thursday stated she had 336 hours in unused vacation time and 483 hours in unused personal leave.

If Sanders-Garrett was allowed to cash all those hours in a her current pay rate, she would get $47,250 given her hourly rate of almost $58.

She received, however, an additional $60,000, which is the equivalent of about six months – or 130 work days – of pay under her most recent salary.

Under her expired contract, Sanders-Garrett received four weeks of vacation annually and 15 personal/sick days annually. Unused vacation and personal/sick days could be rolled over, according to the expired contract.

Upon leaving the BMHA, whether through "separation or termination," vacation days could be cashed in at Sanders-Garrett's regular pay rate, under the contract. Personal/sick days could be cashed in on a one-for-three basis, so one day's pay for every three days of unused time.

It appears Sanders-Garrett may have been permitted to cash out all personal days as well as her vacation days at full pay – not at the one for three rate.

The expired contract details scenarios for terminating the contract, although none completely fit the scenario that occurred with Sanders-Garrett.

If the BMHA terminates the executive director for cause, the housing agency is released from any contractual obligations beyond salary and benefits though the termination dates, the contract says. If the executive director is terminated without cause, the executive director would receive the equivalent of 120 days of salary, payable on a monthly basis. The employee would also receive accrued benefits, according to the contract, which also requires an employee be given two weeks notice of being fired without cause.

Similarly, the employee must give 30 days written notice to terminate her employment, or forfeit accrued benefits, such as cashing in unused vacation time, under the expired contract.

Sanders-Garrett resigned on March 15, which was her last day of work. However, the resignation was apparently the result of an agreement worked out with the BMHA, and not a contractual provision, based on Rodriguez's past comments.

Sanders-Garrett's resignation ended months of speculation over her future, given the myriad problems at the financially struggling BMHA in recent years.

The BMHA has promised to conduct a broad search for a new executive director. Meanwhile, BMHA attorney Gillian Brown is serving as interim executive director.

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