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Our View: DeKalb can move on after settling lawsuit with former employee

Often, when you have a lawyer involved in an issue, you hope to avoid being sued – not have the lawyer named in a lawsuit along with you.

But that’s the way it went in DeKalb after Mayor Jerry Smith announced the removal of Molly Talkington from her post as interim city manager on Nov. 5. 

Less than a week later, Talkington filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission naming Smith and city attorney Dean Frieders. In it, she complained of harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation.

In her complaint, Talkington said both Smith and Frieders both were intensely interested in whether she was dating Ward 1 Alderman David Jacobson. She said Smith had made demeaning comments, and that after she refused to tell Frieders about her dating life, he retaliated by telling the City Council she had exceeded her authority in spending.

The revelation that Talkington had a plan to reduce contributions to the fund that covers employee health insurance benefits was what led to her removal as interim city manager in November. 

Both Smith and Frieders have denied that they did anything wrong. Talkington, meanwhile, insisted that officials, including Frieders, knew about the plan.

It’s hard to say who’s right – the settlement approved this week means other details of the story likely will be kept out of the public.

The city has agreed to pay Talkington, who was hired as finance director in September 2017, more than $70,000 over the next six months. Combined with her time on paid leave, she’ll have received about eight months’ pay without working.  

Had there not been the opportunity for Talkington to sue, the parting probably would have been considerably cheaper for the city. 

At a minimum, the broad outlines of the story seem grounded in fact. 

Jacobson recused himself from voting on the settlement and at times was absent when the matter was discussed.

This deal seemed inevitable and likely was for the best – a clean break was needed from the issues of 2018, a bumpy year in which DeKalb lacked cnsistent leadership at the top. 

The city has a new manager and 2019 represents a new opportunity to make progress. 

The council and new City Manager Bill Nicklas should strive to prevent another incident like this. 

Whether that means changes in policy, training, personnel, or other areas – give it some thought and take action if appropriate.  

At least this is now over and both the city and Talkington can move on.

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