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Board fires director of Oquirrh Park rec center

Following a monthlong investigation and a four-hour closed meeting, it took Salt Lake County Regional Service Area trustees about 90 seconds Saturday to end David Howick's 21-year career as executive director.

The board, which oversees the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, fired Howick virtually without comment with a terse motion and a 3-0 vote.No severance pay will be offered by the recreation district, said board chairman Doral Vance.

The chairman also indicated the issue of Howick's controversial "platinum parachute" consulting contract - intended to keep the former executive director on the service area payroll for three years in the event he was ever terminated - was not discussed Saturday in executive session.

Approved in 1995 by the previous board of trustees, the contract promised Howick nearly a quarter million dollars over the three-year period for vaguely defined "consultant" services to be provided at Howick's convenience.

The closed meeting was attended by all three trustees, service area attorney Mark Anderson, Howick and his attorney, acting executive director Jan Furner and local attorney Mary Ann Wood, an independent counsel hired last month to investigate Howick's actions as director.

Trustee Laurie Stringham made the motion to fire the controversial executive director immediately "based on all the facts" presented in the executive session.

Board members declined to discuss exactly what was said during the closed-door meeting but did confirm there were no severance pay negotiations.

However, Trustee Tony Bueno noted that Howick "is an at-will employee" who serves at the pleasure of the board without any guarantee of employment or compensation.

They also said there was no discussion of using Howick as a consultant, but otherwise steered away from specific questions about Wood's findings.

"There could be pending litigation as well," Stringham said.

Trustees were careful to stress, however, that they have been very pleased with the performance of Furner and the rest of the service area's staff during the past month as those employees have worked to reorganize the district's records and finances.

Howick's phone was busy or off the hook Saturday night, and he was not available for comment.

But Chuck Newton, one of the most vocal critics of Howick and the old board of trustees over the past two years, said he believes the termination "was the right resolution to a long and painful process.

"Mr. Howick received more compensation last year than the vice president of the United States, which is absolutely ridiculous," he said. "Now we're going to be in a rebuilding phase . . . memberships are nonexistent and the service area is expected to run out of money in June, at the end of the current fiscal year."

Howick, who hired on to work part-time in the Oquirrh Park locker room 28 years ago, was placed on paid administrative leave Jan. 5 pending the investigation.

At the time, he called the board's action "an arrow through my heart."

There was little doubt Howick would be fired in the wake of highly critical audits from both the State Auditor's Office and the service area's own independent auditing firm, Clark Associates.

Those audits lambasted Howick and the old board for financial mismanagement, lack of controls over fiscal records and other written documents, failure to follow policies and procedures and improper actions.

At the conclusion of Saturday's 7-hour board meeting, Vance said the service area will immediately begin the search for a new executive director.

He also said the new board plans to stand pat and wait to see whether Howick and his attorney, Bob Wilde, file suit to enforce the three-year consulting contract.