Article Comment 

Settlement makes Johnson fourth highest-paid city leader


Kristin Mamrack



The Columbus City Council on Tuesday officially approved a settlement agreement with Columbus Police Department Assistant Chief Joe Johnson, making his salary the fourth-highest among city department heads. 


The council earlier agreed to give Johnson a salary raise of $10,000 a year and $32,500 in cash to settle his racial discrimination lawsuit against the city, but the matter was not officially voted on until Tuesday night. 


The salary increase puts Johnson at $64,000 a year, until he retires, a rate now higher than all but three of the city''s leaders -- Mayor Robert Smith ($76,500), Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong ($71,070) and Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John ($72,100). 


In comparison, Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernson''s salary is $61,800 a year; Human Resources Director Pat Mitchell''s salary is $53,294.73 a year; Fire Chief Ken Moore''s salary is $61,800 a year; Director of Federal programs and Inspections George Irby''s salary is $55,557.17 a year; City Property Manager Frank Goodman''s salary is $51,646 a year; Garage Manager Woodrow Clark''s salary is $50,715.14 a year; Information Technology Administrator Matt Manley''s salary is $35,000 a year; and Municipal Court Judge Curtis Austin''s salary is $45,526 a year. 


Attorneys for the city and Johnson have been in negotiations for some time, proposing various offers and counter-offers. One of the proposals to settle the lawsuit -- from Johnson and his attorney, Jim Waide of Tupelo -- was for $45,000 and a salary increase, reported Columbus Mayor Robert Smith, noting the city''s most recent "one-time only" counter-offer was for $32,500, which includes attorney''s fees and expenses, and the salary increase. Johnson has worked for the department since 1974. 


The city''s liability insurer paid for the $32,500 payment; the settlement terms also included a stipulation Johnson cannot file similar lawsuit against the city, if he is not chosen as police chief in the future, said City Attorney Jeff Turnage. 


"If the position came available and Mr. Johnson applied, but was not selected, he would agree not to institute another action against the city," he explained of Johnson''s acceptance of the terms. 


The council voted 5 to 1 to approve the settlement terms; Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin voted against the motion. 


"I think the pay increase is out of line with what we currently pay city employees," Gavin said. "I think we''ll be opening ourselves up for other problems." 


In 2007, less than a month after a federal jury found the city did not racially discriminate against Johnson in the 2003 hiring of former Police Chief J.D. Sanders, Johnson filed a second lawsuit. 


The second suit alleged, among other things, the city sought outside applicants for the chief''s position and would not promote Johnson, who was serving as assistant chief, because of Johnson''s "race and because of the fact (Johnson) has filed an Equal Opportunity charge and a racial discrimination suit." 


According to court documents, the city asserted "three legitimate reasons" for not hiring Johnson -- he was less qualified than current Police Chief Joseph St. John, his performance was "poor," and he was "part of the long-term dysfunctional leadership of the Columbus Police Department." 


Following the resignation of Sanders, in 2006, Johnson was appointed interim chief; he had previously served as interim chief prior to Sanders'' hiring. 


On June 18, 2007, a federal jury found the city had not discriminated against Johnson by not hiring him as chief in 2003; the council voted to hire St. John on July 2, 2007.




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Reader Comments

Article Comment Ellen commented at 1/20/2010 2:31:00 PM:

Those salaries are sad especially their IT director making 35,000 a year.. They should be embarrased about that. So City of Columbus, you just admitted that you discrimated..


Article Comment MARV commented at 1/20/2010 8:08:00 PM:



Article Comment Stormy commented at 1/21/2010 1:38:00 AM:

I am just gut busted!! I can not believe the city council is so dang lame brained to give out money like this. What for? Proven in court to be in the right, that no discrimination had taken place. What is this money for? To stop him from filing future lawsuits? Well butter my bum and call me a biscut, I will just jump right on that band wagon and tell the city I will not file suit also, if they pay me a years salary and give me a raise!!


Article Comment Bubba Gump commented at 1/21/2010 8:33:00 AM:

As I said earlier Stormy, this was a conspiracy between the Mayor and Joe Johnson meant to scam the city out of this money and force the city to install Johnson into the Chief job the next time it comes available.

There was no reason to fold on this other than it was never intended to end in any other way. And if you think we've had problems at the CPD before, you just wait until Joe Johnson is driving the bus. According to past leaders, he is incompetent, lazy, unable to complete even the smallest of tasks, and judging by his own behavior I'd say unable to achieve a Chief position in any other way besides playing the race card.

This is only the beginning of the decline in this city.


Article Comment Thom Geiger commented at 1/21/2010 1:27:00 PM:

Do you know how many people have filed suit against us, the taxpayers, for this same type of scam? How many were on the bandwagon when Joe jumped on? How many CPD officers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains have already filed suits or complaints with the EEOC office in Jackson, which has a documented history of generously handing out 'Right to Sue' determinations?
How many times have we been sued as school taxpayers? What about it Robert, Mr. Mayor, would you know anything about that? The former head of security for the CMSD sued the Tupelo PD for the same thing and it was settled. This is a gold mine for some people and we pay, one way or the other.
BTW, when it's being reported that the insurance company is paying the $32K, ask the paper and the TV station who was it that paid for the salaries, transportation costs, etc. of the officers and officials who have gone to trial to testify in these frivolous suits? To say we didn't lose any money on these suits is not an omission, it is an outright lie.


Article Comment walter commented at 1/21/2010 1:40:00 PM:

The next suit filed by Asst. Chief Johnson, if he is so inclined and wishes to exonerate his name and that of the city's hardworking, dedicated and honorable Mayor, is one against people bias and overly-bitter enough to make such an outlandish and defamatory statement, as that above. If the Chief's salary is within the 70 grand range, it is very reasonable for the city to pay his assistant, with 34 years of experience, within the city, a salary within the 60 grand range. All matters considered, the city and the citizens and residents of Columbus got the better end of the settlement: it keeps a very experienced law enforcment officer who is very familiar with the populace and the new Chief has a very able assistant to advise him in matters that he, because of his own background and the demographics of the city, he, the new Chief will never be able to fully grasp and it isn't obtainable quickly enough from training or classroom lectures.

Perhaps, a slander suit would cause more sober heads to speak and to finally put the matter to rest.


Article Comment Thom Geiger commented at 1/22/2010 1:54:00 PM:

Walter, are you saying in a public message that I have committed defamation, or are you referring to some else's writing? I don't expect you to answer, but I thought I would put the challenge to you to man up and be specific.
Even if your accusation wasn't aimed at me, I would welcome any legal action from Joe Johnson, Robert Smith or anyone I have publicly criticized over the matter of these frivolous lawsuits.
Legal complaints work both ways. Little to nothing would be forthcoming in discovery as to my motivations about this problem, other than my being a taxpayer who has lost money because of this type of scam. On the other hand, discovery would prove interesting when it comes to my claims that Joe Johnson is unqualified to hold the position he sued me and other city taxpayers over. Maybe, perhaps finally we might get a look at undoctored reports on the incidents where Johnson's actions have led directly to civil liability for us (as taxpayers), not once but several times. I have detailed personal knowledge of one of those situations and I can guarantee there would be no whitewashing what happened, unlike what went on in the Justin Smith case. By the way, how much do you think we taxpayers will have to pay for that incident?


Article Comment Thom Geiger commented at 1/22/2010 2:06:00 PM:

Just a short comment on Ellen's message;
Matt Manley and I don't agree on hardly anything and we get along about as well as oil and water, but I think $35K per year for what he is expected to do is grossly underpaid. Take a look at the city school IT manager's salary, or the IT manager of any large local business. My bet is that there are few, if any, local businesses outside Columbus Air Force Base that have as many IT assets as the city of Columbus . If Matt is keeping that going and actually doing the work himself, that salary is lower than anything I have seen in the IT field for that level of responsibility. It should be a department in and of itself and the head of the department would easily justify $10-$15K above the current salary. The national average for that level of position today in the business world is from $75K to $99K.


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