LARGO - Commissioner Mary Black has pointed out what appears to be a technicality in Largo law that would prevent the just fired city manager, Steve Stanton, from being paid his severance package beyond September 30 of this year.
Under the employment agreement with Stanton, the severance package includes compensation for all accrued vacation, all pay equal to his salary at the time of firing for 12 months after the date of firing, continuation of health, life and disability benefits for the same period of time, and contributions at the same rate to his retirement fund.
The agreement provides that the severance pay and benefits will be paid in bi-weekly installments, unless otherwise agreed to in writing by Stanton.
The last is the possible escape hatch that would not prevent payment beyond September 30 unless the "otherwise agreed to in writing" provision must have been executed some time prior to his firing.
As a matter of fairness and equity, it would seem that the City Commission would agree to pay Stanton the severance package by passing a special ordinance.
What brought the problem about are provisions in Florida law and Largo's ordinances.
Under the terms of the agreement, the compensation due Stanton would be paid to March 23, 2008, unless there is an agreement with Stanton in writing that modifies the payment schedule. The timing of that modification could be at issue.
The problem is that the agreement obligates the city to fund payments to Stanton beyond the end of the fiscal year which ends September 30.
Florida law makes it unlawful for any municipality to expend or contract for expenditures beyond the end of a fiscal year except in pursuance of budgeted appropriations.
The Largo City Charter prohibits making contracts that provide for payments beyond the end of a fiscal year unless the contract is approved by ordinance.
As cited by Black, who has a reputation for being alert to details and technicalities, Section 5.05 of the charter says "Any payment or obligation authorized in violation of this charter shall be void and any payment so made illegal; such action shall be cause for termination of any employee or official who knowingly authorized or made such payment or incurred such obligation, and such person shall be liable to the city for any amount so paid."
Black is sometimes criticized for playing lawyer in her role as commissioner, but in this case it seems that if she doesn't play lawyer, who would?
Another part of Section 5.05 says ". . .However, nothing in this section prevents . . . the making of contracts . . . that provide for payments beyond the fiscal year, provided that such actions are approved by ordinance."
As Black alertly points out, the agreement between the city and Stanton dated October 10, 2003 and amended September 6, 2005 and amended again September 6, 2006, was not approved by ordinance, and neither of the amendments was approved by ordinance.
The agreement and its amendments do not include a clause that provides for funding beyond the end of the fiscal year.
An irony is that, when the contract amendment was taking place, Curtis Holmes, a citizen warned that it needed to be in ordinance form. He was ignored. Now it appears the chickens have come home to roost with this complication.
As one observer points out, "too often this goes on in Largo - historically the commission has ignored details and this is what happens."
Another aspect of the critical language is that Resolution 1927, the instrument that was approved, 5-2, by the commission last Friday and dismissed Stanton, contains this predicate language - "authorizes the payment of any and all severance pay provided by the Employment Agreement and not in conflict with the City Charter."