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News Highlands town manager terminated for not ‘meeting expectations’

 Jim FatlandRobert Zoellner named interim replacement

Earlier this month, the Town of Highlands terminated its manager, Jim Fatland, without giving any details to the public.

Last week, Highlands officials were finally able to release some information to the public regarding Fatland’s firing.

On July 20, Highlands Town Attorney Bill Coward released this statement to the local media:

“I drafted a release agreement in which the town was released from all liability and all possibility of a claim by Jim Fatland against the town, which Jim agreed to sign in return for a statement of the reasons for his dismissal being: ‘Mr. Fatland did not meet the reasonable expectations of the board as to his overall job performance as Town Manager.’” The statement, Coward added, would go onto Fatland’s personnel jacket, possibly affecting any similar employment opportunities in the future.

According to Coward, on July 15, Fatland’s attorney Kevin Kopp, of the Roberts and Stevens law office in Asheville, told him that Fatland had agreed to the terms of the draft.

On that same day, according to Coward, the former Highlands’ manager reportedly received all earned pay, accrued vacation pay, comp-time and everything due to him as of his termination date of July 6. “He was given no severance pay,” Coward added. “On July 19, Mr. Kopp told me that Jim had signed the release and had over-nighted it to Kevin.”

Coward went on to explain that the release would be in the hands of Highlands officials to officiate the process on Thursday, July 21. “A contract with the town must be in writing,” he said. “When we have the writing and the release we will be more free to answer questions, if necessary.”

The entire process has left the town with having to choose someone to fill in for Fatland, and on July 20, they made their choice.

Coward announced that former town administrator Robert Zoellner will fill in for Fatland as interim town manager at $30 per hour, while town officials seek out Fatland’s successor. Zoellner was not given a vehicle allowance or any other benefits that are given to all other town employees. “The town is seeking a full-time manager and will continue to do so,” Coward stressed. Zoellner officially began his duties as interim manager last Monday.

Fatland took on the office of Town Manager in January of 2009 when the Town of Highlands transitioned from a Mayor- Council structure of government to a Council-Manager form. At the time, Fatland’s starting salary was $98,000.

Since last year, Fatland was earning $104,000 per year and was allotted $500 a week for automobile expenses, along with regular town employee benefits.


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