Guthrie property owners will see their property taxes go up to pay back a Guthrie police officer, who was once terminated and then reinstated, after a court judgement against the City of Guthrie.
Lt. Mark Bruning was awarded nearly $192,000 for back pay after he was terminated for an incident during the 2013 Mumford & Sons concert. Now property owners inside the Guthrie city limits will foot the bill for the next three years.
Bruning was terminated in Oct. 2013 after arresting his then girlfriend’s ex-husband during the Mumford & Sons concert in Sept. 2013. However, an arbitrator ruled the City of Guthrie wrongfully terminated Bruning. The arbitrator ruled the police officer should return in the same position (lieutenant) when he was terminated and back pay. The ruling also stated Bruning was to be suspended for six months without pay.
Bruning returned to work on May 1, 2017.
Through an Open Records request from Guthrie News Page, the four page settlement agreement between Bruning and the City shows the officer is due $158,000 in gross pay, $10,177.40 of the employer share of FICA tax and $23,684.27 for the employer share of the police pension retirement. For a grand total of $191,861.67.
The court document also shows that Bruning and the City will be solely responsible for their own fees, costs and expenses, including attorney fees.
Guthrie News Page requested all financial information from the City, including attorney fees and settlement costs. Attorney costs for the City is reported at $127,372. The City’s insurance carrier, Oklahoma Municipal Assurance Group (OMAG), paid $37,500 to settle the lawsuit that was filed by Bruning individually against City employees. In addition, OMAG paid $35,000 to Kyle White, who was arrested at the concert for public intoxication, but the charge was dropped soon after.
With a 5-2 vote, the Guthrie city council decided to place the settlement as a judgement on the ad valorem (property) tax rolls for the next three years. State statute requires a three-year length. Council members Ed Wood and Brian Bothroyd each voted no after agreeing on the settlement, but not the method as to which the City was going to pay back Bruning.
So how much will it cost tax payers?
According to the City’s legal counsel, if a property owner owns a $100,000 home it will cost them $1.66 per month, which equals $59.76 total over 36 months.
Council members selected the tax roll over using the City’s general fund, or the rainy day fund. With the City recently laying off four positions and not filling several other open positions due to over spending, the option did not look achievable. If the rainy day fund were to be used, that money would then have to be paid back, according to the City’s charter.
Bruning says he only wanted to be treated fair and not cause a riff in the town where he grew up. In January, Bruning stated, “I want everybody to try to come together and get back on the right path.”
City Manager Leroy Alsup, who took the City’s top spot this past February, says citizens were simply going to pay for the settlement one way or the other.
“Clearly, if you look at it from a financial stand point it was a sound decision by the city council. If you look at from an opinion or political point of view then it can be debated a lot of ways,” Alsup said.
He continued, “It takes a certain amount of money to operate the city. The citizens were going to pay for it one way or the other. It’s what the most painless way to do it is. From the outside looking in, I can understand nobody likes to see an increase whether it be a sales tax increase, or property tax increase, or a fee increase, but in this case, I believe, both parties (City and Bruning) felt strongly about the situation.”
The city manager says the City is now taking a look at these types of cases and trying to handle them without the use of the court system.
“Hopefully it’s been a learning experience for both parties involved. I know the philosophy and atmosphere at the City now is to try to resolve these matters rather than litigate or arbitration to start with. We’re trying to develop a culture where we try to work through these issues internally.”