The city of Tempe is set to pay ex-Police Chief Tom Ryff $150,000 to settle a lawsuit Ryff filed in 2017 after current Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir badmouthed him to potential employers, documents obtained by Phoenix New Times show.
The payment still needs to be approved by the City Council. The next Tempe council meeting is Thursday, December 12.
On July 25, 2017, Ryff filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city alleging that the city breached a non-disparagement agreement in his retirement contract and prevented him from getting a job with the Tempe Union High School District (TUHSD). Ryff retired in 2015 after 37 years with Tempe Police.
Moir replaced him. Then, in late 2016, Moir received a phone call from TUHSD superintendent Kenneth Baca, who wanted to hire Ryff for a $109,000-a-year job as the district's executive director of student affairs and district safety.
Moir told Baca the department would be "uncomfortable" working with Ryff in that position, the lawsuit states, and told Baca that if he hired Ryff he would be going against the department's goals. According to the lawsuit, Moir claimed that other people in the city agreed it wouldn't be a "positive development" to hire Ryff.
After talking with Moir, Baca rescinded the job offer to Ryff.
At the time, the city fired back at Ryff's allegations. Tempe City Councilman David Schapira told the Arizona Republic that Ryff's claim showed "a clear lack of gratitude from a former employee who was abundantly compensated by the taxpayers of this city." (Ryff received a generous retirement package and was kept on as a consultant after he retired, during which time he received the same salary he did as police chief.)
In response to Ryff's lawsuit, the city brought up an old audio recording of Ryff encouraging a subordinate to lie so they could go out for the night.
The city did not admit any liability in the settlement agreement with Ryff, saying only that the "decision to settle was made to avoid significant expenses associated with protracted litigation."
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As part of the agreement, Ryff will have to dismiss all claims against Tempe and its employees related to the alleged breach of his retirement contract's non-disparagement provision. Ryff will also be required to provide the City Attorney's Office with all original copies of documents and evidence in his possession within a week after the Council approves the settlement.
Ryff's attorney, Stephen Montoya, did not immediately respond to a voicemail and email seeking comment, nor did Tempe City Manager Andrew Ching. Ryff also did not respond to calls made to his home and cellphones.