In a mostly civil meeting that lasted until nearly midnight, the Lake Helen City Commission voted 4-1 to let embattled City Administrator Jason Yarborough leave on good terms the job he’s held for three years — and with a hefty severance package.
Yarborough found himself in hot water over a water-billing issue for Lake Helen Villa, a 55-and-older mobile-home park. Months of under-billing resulted in a catch-up bill of $56,000 for the community of more than 200 homes.
City commissioners were left in the dark about the issue for several months, but tensions boiled over at an Aug. 31 meeting, where a discussion of the issue took place.
“After the Aug. 31 meeting, I spoke to all of [the commissioners] individually, and I felt it was time to move on to a new chapter of life,” he said at the Sept. 13 meeting.
Yarborough made his resignation contingent on the commission accepting a proposed separation agreement, which would give him 16 weeks of severance pay, totaling about $48,000.
A few residents spoke on the proposed agreement. Most were sympathetic to Yarborough, painting the billing issue as an honest mistake.
“I’ve spoken with Mr. Yarborough,” said resident Sean Abshire. “We’ve had our issues, but we’ve always worked them out … I encourage you tonight to accept what he’s presented.”
Former Mayor Buddy Snowden — who cast the lone dissenting vote against hiring Yarborough in 2015 — struck a less conciliatory note.
“I found Mr. Yarborough to be very manipulative. I found that he coerced the commission,” he said. “I found that he took little facts and exaggerated some of those, to the detriment of the city of Lake Helen.”
“I have the utmost respect for Mr. Yarborough, but I don’t think he is the right fit for the city of Lake Helen,” Snowden added.
Most commissioners, however, wanted to move on from the issue amicably. The lone dissenter in accepting Yarborough’s proposed agreement was Commissioner Tom Wilson.
“Fundamentally, I still believe that the city administrator committed misconduct,” he said.
The commission could have terminated Yarborough for cause, if they found he committed misconduct as defined in state law, but City Attorney Scott Simpson told commissioners that it would be a drawn-out process, involving two hearings, and that the bar for proving misconduct is quite high.
In the end, a 4-1 majority of the commission thought it best to separate from Yarborough amicably.
Yarborough’s resignation took effect Sept. 14.
Commissioners unanimously appointed City Clerk Becky Witte as interim city manager, until a permanent replacement is found.