Sutherland says he was surpised by commission’s contract termination

Chelle Delaney

Former Tucumcari City Manager John Sutherland said Friday he was surprised by the City Commission’s 3-2 vote to terminate his contract at Thursday night’s meeting.

“It’s the give and take of politics,” Sutherland said. “At some point politics turns a certain way and you just have to live with it. I don’t know how to identify the hiccup. It’s just become a puzzle.”

There has been a line of city managers in city government and citizens have been confused before, Sutherland said.

Sutherland said he had been committed to giving the two full years of his contract. He also said that he and his partner, Connie, had invested in a home and in the community. Now, “I’m in the process of putting together a search and touching all the bases,” Sutherland said.

Former Mayor Mary Mayfield, who was part of the city commission team that hired Sutherland, said, “I’m very disappointed.”

Sutherland took the city manager post on May 1, 2007 at an annual salary of $70,000.

After the city commission had a near hour-long closed executive session on Thursday night to review Sutherland’s contract, the commissioners voted 3-2 to terminate his contract.

Commissioner Jim Lafferty made the motion to terminate Sutherland. Lafferty, James Sandoval and Mayor Antonio Apodaca had the three votes to fire Sutherland.

“This was a difficult decision… but it’s in the best interests of the city, ” Apodaca said.

“I believe this is wrong,” said Commissioner Jim Witcher, who voted against firing Sutherland. “John Sutherland has done an excellent job … great strides have been made for Tucumcari.”

“I don’t think this is good,” said Commissioner Robert Lumpkin, who also voted against the motion to terminate Sutherland.

“I think he has done a good job for Tucumcari,” said Lumpkin, who added that Sutherland’s termination would not put the city in a good light.

The commissioners provided no explanation of the action. Apodaca, on his way out of the meeting, said,”(we’d) like to go in a different direction.”

At the meeting Tucucmari Fire Chief Mike Cherry was selected as the interim city manager.

Cherry said, on Friday, that Sutherland would receive a 90-day severance package based on his termination date.

Personnel matters brought up in a closed session are confidential, Cherry said.

Lafferty said on Friday “it was certainly a difficult situation,” and that he could not pinpoint any one item that led to the decision to terminate Sutherland’s contract.

Lumpkin said he had received numerous phone calls from people in Clovis to Tucumcari throughout Friday in support of his position not to terminate the contract.

Now, Lumpkin said, “My main concern is for the city to get through this with as a little damage as possible.”