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Whitestown Town Council approves $64K buyout for Town Manager

Jason Lawson's last day was May 11; Whitestown now without a town manager
Jason Lawson (pictured) in a town of Whitestown employee newsletter in September 2022
Whitestown.jfif
Posted at 12:47 PM, May 17, 2023

WHITESTOWN, Ind.-- The Whitestown Town Manager will receive a $64,196 buy-out following a 3-1 vote from the Whitestown Town Council.

At its May 10 meeting, the council approved a resolution to buy out the rest of Town Manager Jason Lawson’s contract.

The buy-out includes six months of Lawson’s salary, $54,059.98, and 192 hours of earned and unused vacation time at $10,136.24.

Lawson’s contract with the town was signed in August 2019 and expires on December 31, 2023, records show.

Lawson’s last day with the town was May 11, according to the agreement.

This means the town will be without a town manager until next year, and instead an “interim leadership team” will keep services running.

Four of the current town council members are not seeking re-election and will not be on the new town council starting in January 2024— Susan Austin, Clinton Bohm, and Jeffrey Wishek.

Town council member Eric Miller resigned earlier this month after Governor Eric Holcomb appointed him director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.

Candidates backed by Bohm and other current council members did not win in the May 2 primary, which is one big reason why members felt the buy-out was necessary.

“The majority of votes tallied last Tuesday, they sent a message,” said Bohm at the May 10 meeting. “Now that the primary is over, transition should begin. This is the first step in that.”

Newcomer Republicans Cheryl Hancock, Dan Patterson, Tanya Sumner won the primary and will move on to the general election in November as well as incumbent Eric Nichols.

Nichols will be the only returning Whitestown Town Council member starting in 2024.

“It is clear and obvious to me the message was a change in direction,” said Bohm. “It is disingenuous for those working with the town to have the main point person be someone that was promoting and working an agenda that was different from that one. I thank Jason for his work.”

Bohm also pointed out the town gave a similar buyout to its former police chief, Dennis Anderson, in 2020.

At the meeting, Bohm stepped down as president and Nichols was named the new president of the council.

“While I am not the biggest fan of buyouts necessarily, as a prior litigation attorney I get why they’re there and what the protection is,” said Nichols. “We are treating a long-term employee of the town right while also respecting what the voters have decided. And at the same time respecting what the next council wants to do.”

Only one member of the town council, Jeff Wishek, spoke out against the buy-out.

“I believe this is sending the wrong message to the town and town employees that if you don’t like something just pay it out,” said Wishek. “That’s the part where I don’t feel that we should send that message. It’s the taxpayers hard-earned money and I feel like it’s taking the easy way out to quit.”

Wishek was the only council member to vote against the payout and said Lawson should stay on as town manager.

“I appreciate Jason and all he’s done for the done and I wish he would stay on as town manager,” said Wishek. “It’s an opportunity for him to reach out to whoever the new council ends up being. They can work together. There can be collaboration. They can take the town in a new direction together.”

The agreement includes a clause that prohibits Lawson from disparaging, demeaning or sharing any information that is “potentially damaging to the business or reputation of the town.”

WRTV Investigates is working to contact Lawson for comment, as well as the current town council members.

Current Town Council President Eric Nichols responded to WRTV via email and referred questions to the town’s public relations director.

"Everything was said at the public meeting, and therefore we don’t have any further comment on this employee matter," said Kim Heffner, director of public relations for the Town of Whitestown, in an email to WRTV.

In an emailed statement, member Jeff Wishek expressed his frustration.

"I tried stopping it," said Wishek. "This agenda item was slid in less than an hour before the meeting as well. This is a great example of decisions made by current council that the public is fed up with and the primary results show this."