Culpeper Town Treasurer resigns

Three days after the Culpeper Town Council went into closed session (Feb. 9) to discuss a personnel matter regarding a town council appointee Town Treasurer/Finance Director Pon Yusuf, who has held the position since September 2013, suddenly resigned effective Feb. 12, according to a town news release.

The release said Yusuf left town employment â??to pursue other employment options.â?

Yusuf, who was not present at the regular Feb. 9 town council meeting, is being paid four monthsâ?? severance or $41,987.31, according to Town Human Resources Director Mary Brunner.

Yusuf earned $125,961.94 annually.

Town Manager Chris Hively could not comment on how that severance was authorized.

The town also refused to release a copy of Yusufâ??s resignation letter citing the Virginia Freedom of Information Act exemption regarding personnel matters, although the town has released resignation letters to the media in the past.

The town also refused to provide the date on the resignation letter without revealing its contents.

â??(The date) is part of the confidential personnel file,â? according to a Saturday email from Brunner.

All the town would say was the resignation was effective Feb. 12.

â??We cannot give any further explanation,â? Hively wrote in an email after Brunner provided the severance information and a copy of Yusufâ??s initial employment contract. Brunner indicated that there were no additional employment agreements between the town and Yusuf.

The original employment contract signed by Yusuf and then-Mayor Calvin â??Chipâ? Coleman in September 2013 spells out when a severance payment is warranted.

The agreement says that the treasurer â??agrees to give the town at least 30 days advance notice of the town treasurerâ??s resignation or retirement, unless parties agree otherwise in writing.â? Failure to provide 30 days notice constitutes a breach of the agreement and a waiver of the treasurer to receive compensation for unused leave.

â??No severance shall be paid if the town treasurer resigns or retires,â? according to the employment agreement.

The Times contacted Mayor Michael Olinger seeking comment about the severance package approved by town council, according to Brunner, that appears to be in conflict with the employment contract.

Olinger, who texted he was out of town, offered no comment referring to the news release.

The town council has held numerous closed sessions in a month to discuss a personnel matter about Yusuf. Town council called a special meeting for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, just one week after its regular Jan. 12 meeting during which it held a closed session to evaluate the job performance of council appointees. Following the Jan. 12 closed session, Yusuf was handed an envelope, the contents of which are unknown.

The agenda for Jan. 19 special meeting contained only one item, a closed session motion to discuss: â??the assignment, appointment, promotion, performance, demotion, salaries, disciplining, or resignation of Council appointees.â?

About 13 minutes into the special meeting, Hively and Town Attorney Martin Crim were summoned to the closed meeting. About 15 minutes later, the town council opened the meeting and adjourned without taking any action.

A week later, the town councilâ??s Personnel and Ordinance Committee held another closed meeting to discuss the â??performance evaluation or job assignments of specific employees, specifically councilâ??s direct appointees,â? again believed to be Yusuf.

The town council met in closed session prior to its regular monthly meeting Feb. 9 to discuss a personnel matter involving council appointees. Following the closed session, the nine-member council certified that it didnâ??t discuss anything outside the motion to go into closed session.

During its regular meeting, Vice Mayor Billy Yowell made an unusual motion, which was unanimously approved.

â??I make a motion that the town manager (Hively) proceed as discussed in closed session,â? said Yowell.

What Hively was directed to do by town council remains a mystery.

The Times, through email Friday, asked Brunner about the severance package and how town council authorized payment.

â??Yes, council authorized the severance payment,â? Bruner wrote. â??They voted on this at the February 9, 2016 meeting when they voted on the closed session action item.â?

Yowellâ??s motion, and the only motion on the closed session agenda item, made no mention of severance.

Councilman Jon Russell a vocal proponent of open and transparent government said he couldnâ??t talk much about the issue since it was a personnel matter.

However, Russell said there had been some discussion about having the treasurerâ??s office and that department answer to the town manager, instead of reporting to town council. Those discussion are still in the preliminary stages, said Russell.

â??She was probably the best treasurer we ever had,â? said Russell about Yusuf. â??She was a really good employee. There will be a loss.â?

The town council only has four appointees, Hively, Town Attorney Martin Crim, both of whom emerged from the closed session, Town Clerk Kim Allen and Town Treasurer Pon Yusuf, who did not attend last weekâ??s regular town council session.

Yusuf came under fire recently when a software problem delayed the printing and mailing of real estate and personal property tax bills that caused the town council to extend the payment deadline from Jan. 31 to Feb. 29 to allow thousands of town taxpayers adequate time to pay the bills. Several businessmen complained to Yusuf and town council members in late December about the delayed mailing of real estate and personal property tax bills that normally arrive in December. This year, due to a reported software problem, the bills didnâ??t begin arriving until the first week in January, having been mailed Dec. 31. But there were apparently other issues with her job performance.

Yusuf was hired from a field of 26 candidates and began work in Culpeper on Sept. 9, 2013.

Since assuming the treasurerâ??s position, Yusufâ??s department has grown by 50 percent from 10 employees to 15. Meanwhile, the overall budget for her department increased from $836,905 in to $1.27 million this fiscal year, a 52 percent increase.

Prior to being named Culpeperâ??s finance director, she was employed as the accounting manager for the City of Manassas, and held that position for about a year. She also served as the chief accountant for Prince William County Public Schools for about seven months and as the Accounting Division Chief for two years at Fauquier County Government and Public Schools. Yusuf was the Financial Analysis Director at Freddie Mac for five years.

Deputy Treasurer Jennifer Landreth was named interim treasurer/finance director by Hively. Landreth holds an accounting degree from Strayer University, according to the town news release.

â??We have a lot of work to do during the coming months, including creation of a new budget for Fiscal Year 2017,â? said Hively. â??We are fortunate to have a strong staff, ready to move forward to better serve our citizens.â?

Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at