City Adds Up Costs of Thomas Termination Hearings

January 11, 2011 Updated Jan 11, 2011 at 7:58 PM EDT

By Laura Gray

January 11, 2011 Updated Jan 11, 2011 at 7:58 PM EDT

Buffalo, NY (WKBW) -- An arbitrator and an attorney cost the city of Buffalo hundreds of dollars an hour during the month long termination hearings for Human Resource Commissioner Karla Thomas. With Thomas now out of a job, the city of Buffalo is adding up all those expenses.
After a month of listening to witness testimony in a public hearing, arbitrator Michael Battle is supporting Mayor Byron Brown's decision to fire Karla Thomas. An attorney for Thomas tells me she was served termination papers yesterday at 3pm.
The human resources commissioner was accused of paying out 2 million dollars in health insurance to dead retirees. Mayor Brown claims he informed Thomas to obtain a social security death master index. 8 months later, he says, she had not done so. That error, the Mayor says, cost city taxpayers more than 800-thousand dollars that can not be recouped. "The hearing officer felt that this could have been done very quickly. It could have been done with the existing staff. All the resources and tools were there - if my directive had been followed."
We were unable to contact Thomas or her attorney today. We did talk with thomas in October at a fundraiser in to benefit her. She felt the mayor was using her as a scapegoat for government inefficiencies that were beyond her control.
There are other expenses on top of that 800-thousand dollars the city will never get back. The hearing officer cost 425 dollars per hour. The mayor's attorney cost 185 dollars per hour. Thomas continued to receive her 90-thousand dollar a year salary until yesterday. "I don't know the expense right now. It's being calculated. Once we know final calculation we will report it out. But I would suspect it will be expensive." Mayor Brown says.
The Mayor believes the next mayor will inherit the same type of expensive termination hearing process if the law isn't changed. "For this process to be shortened the NY Civil Service law would have to be changed, and the City Charter would have to be changed."
Thomas had served just two years out of a six year contract. Her attorney told me yesterday he planned to file a lawsuit to recoup her remaining salary - of 330-thousand dollars. Meanwhile, Mayor Brown tells us they will bring someone in for the interim to replace Thomas. A panel will then review all interested candidates before making a recommendation to the mayor on a replacement.