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Thursday, 28 July 2016 16:11

Guest Opinion

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It only took a couple of
weeks for our esteemed Town
Council to reverse its firing “for
cause” of Town Manager Don Stilwell,
and instead terminate his employment
“for convenience,” as his
contract with the town allows. Firing
Stilwell without “cause” means
the town will have to pay him 20
weeks’ worth of severance pay plus
his accrued personal leave and his
attorney’s fees.
The fees, yet to be determined,
were basically for a letter
from Stilwell’s lawyer pointing out
all the reasons why the firing “for
cause” was deficient – little things
like there was no stated “cause,”
and that “as a public sector employee
with an employment contract,”
Stilwell is protected by law
to due process which includes “notice
and an opportunity to respond
in a pre-termination hearing and an
explanation of the evidence” of his
alleged non-feasance. If Stilwell
sued for wrongful termination, it
would have been a slam-dunk win
and really cost the town big bucks.
The fact that Council member
(and attorney) Rexanne
Hosafros pointed out everything
that the lawyer’s letter said at the
meeting when the firing took place
didn’t matter to Mayor Dennis
Boback, Vice-mayor Summer
Stockton and Council Member
Tracey Gore. They chose to ignore
the warning and dug the town into
a hole that just kept getting deeper.
Had they listened to Hosafros in
the first place, they could have
saved the town some money. But
they were hell-bent on their misguided
adventure and did it anyway.
Boback later commented
that he was “100% certain that the
determination of ‘with cause’
would be upheld” and that he was
changing his vote “against his better
judgement because it would
cause a lot of chaos in the town
over the next year . . .” Too bad he
didn’t think about all that chaos before
making his original motion.
His statement has a ring of
defamation in it that might give
Stilwell pause about accepting the
deal.
It would be comforting if
just one of the three council members
who made the mess would
have the integrity (and guts) to
stand up and say, “We made a mistake.
We acted hastily without
thinking through where this action
would take us.” I’m not holding
my breath for that. We’ll have to
be satisfied that their reversal of
the action is all the admission of
error we’ll get.
But wait. There’s more!
At the June 3rd meeting, Boback
openly admitted that he had consulted
an (unnamed) outside attorney
about the firing. As a result of
this consultation, he believed he
could pull it off without having to
pay Stilwell anything and at the
same time, didn’t have to be specific
about stating “cause” or offering
Stilwell due process. If that
was the actual advice, it has to be
some of the worst legal advice ever
given. Boback declined to reveal
the identity of the mystery attorney.
(So much for the transparency
in government that Boback
lamented the lack of during the
campaign.)
By wonder of wonders, a
public records request by the Sand
Paper revealed an email from
Boback to attorney, former council
member and apparently still-angry
man, Bill Shenko - the text of
which is, “Bill, Attached is the reconsideration
request for Stilwell
from (sic) Attorney George Knott.
Would you be available sometime
afternoon today or tomorrow
morning anytime after 10am to discuss?”
So, the unknown attorney is
revealed, to no one’s surprise.
But wait. There’s still
more! Last September, the Charter
Review Commission (of which I
was a member) heard concerns
from Bill Shenko about a proposed
amendment to delete a section
about “revenue sharing” which
then-town attorney Derek Rooney
had advised us, was unnecessary
because it was already covered in
Florida General Law. He inquired
about this with the Attorney General’s
office by phone and was told
that his take on the issue was correct.
In February, Shenko raised
the issue with new town attorney
Dawn Lehnert who believed the
town could lose as much as
$200,000 by not having that clause
in the Charter. An “official” ruling
in writing was asked of the Attorney
General, the status of which no
one seems to know anything about.
Nonetheless, in April newlyelected
mayor Boback made it
clear that if it turned out that
Rooney was wrong, it was his intention
to seek reimbursement
from him for giving the town
faulty legal advice.
That brings us back to the
current situation. If Boback was
ready to go after Rooney for allegedly
giving the town bad legal
advice, then consistency would
dictate that he go after Shenko for
at least the attorney fees that Stilwell
incurred in straightening out
his botched firing. Boback sought
and received legal advice without
any authorization that ended up
costing the taxpayers money, some
of which was mine. I want it back.
This whole fiasco began
with Boback stating that the town
had lost faith and trust in the town
manager. He, Stockton and Gore
should think about that statement
the next time they look in a mirror.

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