Furloughs, Suspension Add to Turmoil in Largo
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Turmoil continues in the city as officials wrestle with the implications of denying raises to Largo employees benefitting from a union contract.
Largo intends to "furlough" those employees who are due raises; that is, they will be assigned days not to come to work and there will be no pay.
Furloughs are designed to offset the raises and at least one lawyer from one of the unions has threatened legal action.
There is even some confusion within the administration's ranks.
Amy Davis, who manages the budget office, sent a message to commission members late last week seeking clarification on their "understanding and intent on the motion to give pay raises and furlough the non-represented employee group."
Of course, that just leads to further confusion because the "non-represented employee group" are those who do not belong to a union.
Davis indicated in that message that where there are no raises involved there will be no furloughs, including, with even more puzzlement, members of the commission themselves.
She wrote that there was consensus at the budget work session August 13 that the City Commission would not accept a pay increase in the upcoming fiscal year.
"Because there will be no pay increase for commission members, there is nothing to furlough," Davis wrote, leading one to believe that had the commission members voted themselves raises they would then be "furloughed." How that would work is a mystery.
Then there is the statement from that great legal authority, Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager who opined in a report in the county's only daily newspaper that in the recent brouhaha over removing Bob Jackson from the November ballot as a candidate for mayor, the city clerk, Diane Bruner, made a mistake, but "from a legal perspective it was ultimately the candidate's responsibility to sure they (sic) complied with all the legal requirements."
Statutes and codes have to do with legal requirements and what Prof. Schubert failed to include in his august bloviation is that the law requires the clerk to review candidate's papers and requires a notary public to follow certain procedures by statute.
While the candidate, Jackson, made a non-legal mistake of omission, the city clerk and another employee, Donna Givens, the notary public, suspended last week for three days as punishment, both committed violations of the law.
The story in the Big Paper reported that the process of notarization is wildly, systematically, regularly and consistently broken on what appears to be a daily basis.
In being set down for three days by that eminent disciplinarian, Mac Craig, the city manager (he pinged police Chief Lester Aradi in a similar way that still has the police department boiling) the action taken against Givens said, "It is imperative that all notarizations include a signature, signed in her presence."
"Signed in her presence."
The howls of laughter you hear coming from Largo City Hall are no doubt inspired by this reporting -
"Several times Givens has been asked to notarize documents that were not signed in front of her. Sometimes these documents were signed by Mayor Pat Gerard, (Givens) said. And they may have occasionally been signed by City Manager Mac Craig, said City Clerk Diane Bruner."
The pertinent Florida Statute -
117.107(9) A notary public may not notarize a signature on a document if the person whose signature is being notarized is not in the presence of the notary public at the time the signature is notarized. Any notary public who violates this subsection is guilty of a civil infraction, punishable by penalty not exceeding $5,000, and such violation constitutes malfeasance and misfeasance in the conduct of official duties. It is no defense to the civil infraction specified in this subsection that the notary public acted without intent to defraud.Also pertinent, from Florida Statutes -
117.105 A notary public who falsely or fraudulently takes an acknowledgment of an instrument as a notary public or who falsely or fraudulently makes a certificate as a notary public or who falsely takes or receives an acknowledgment of the signature on a written instrument is guilty of a felony of the third degree.It was reported that Craig, too, signs documents not in the presence of the notary that are later notarized.
There could be no clearer violation of the law.
While Bruner failed in her duty in not complying with the city election code that requires the checking of candidate's papers and the notary clearly violated state law, it is apparent that no clear legal advice was given at the time Jackson's mistake was discovered and he was rapidly and summarily ousted from the ballot.
Jackson was not happy when he learned that Givens, a relatively low paid city employee, was disciplined. He acknowledges his mistake but contends the situation could have been rectified.
As it now, Largo voters have no choice for mayor.
In the end, it is clear, Largo's boss punished the lowest employee on the totem pole and in that raises the question of the authority to do so.
A notary public is appointed by the governor and holds a state commission. As a city employee, Givens, whose usual job is a receptionist, was loaded up with further duties as a notary. Her failure was not as a city employee but as a state officer.
She did not protest her suspension, naturally, because she needs the job.
And that's how things work in Largo these days.
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