But several people familiar with the Morrill case say that the settlement was negotiated by a staffer with Klein's blessing and that Klein would have had to approve the final package as Morrill's supervisor. (Under RTD bylaws, the board chairman functions as the agency's chief executive officer and has considerable latitude in running the board office.) Although the payment to Morrill came out of the board's budget, no vote was taken on the matter. Three boardmembers contacted by Westword say they didn't even hear about the deal until after it was completed.
Klein, though, denies acting on his own. "Bureaucrats will be bureaucrats and pass the buck," he says.
Regardless of how the deal was struck, boardmember Dave Bishop says he's uncomfortable with the notion of RTD spending tax dollars on severance deals. "I look at any kind of severance like this as hush money, especially when they don't even tell the board it's being paid," he says. "I think we're being taken to the cleaners on the whole thing."
Morrill's post has proven difficult to fill. Her first replacement, Jean Francisco, lasted several months but declined to apply for a permanent position. "She told me she would be better off working in a Total gas station," says boardmember Terri Binder.
Binder believes Powers, too, was caught in the crossfire of feuding boardmembers, who have turned meetings into marathon tirade-swapping sessions and have fired off competing communiques to the media accusing one another of violating open-meeting laws. In Powers's last week on the job, she was given conflicting instructions from Klein and others regarding the order in which various proposals on meeting-notification policy were to be heard at the August 20 board meeting.
"I have to admire her for standing up for what she believed in," Binder says. "She made the comment that Ben Klein would never be evaluating her."
Klein, though, says that he had no problems with Powers and that Binder and other boardmembers critical of the chairman, including Jon Caldara, are seeking to exploit her resignation for political gain. "The Caldara-Binder group are using poor Sharon Powers as a political football," he says. "It's election time. That's what this is all about."
Nine of the fifteen RTD board seats are up for grabs this fall, presenting the possibility of a shift in the near-stalemate of power among current boardmembers, who have divided 8-7 on crucial votes concerning light rail and other major expenditures. Even a slight change in the composition of the board could alter the entire direction of the agency--and give the secretaries a break.