Citizen's Inquiry Sparks Largo Stir on Possible Nepotism
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - An email from a citizen to a member of the City Commission raising the question of nepotism in regard to a city official set off a welter of exchanges last week.
A message from a man named Bill Monroe to Commissioner Curtis Holmes requested that an Attorney General Opinion be sought in the case of Henry Schubert, an assistant city manager, whose wife, Dorothy, also works for the city.
Monroe pointed out that a citizen could not request such an opinion, but took an official to do so. "I am requesting that you, as an official of Largo, ask for an opinion on whether Mr. Schubert has a nepotism situation."
Holmes passed the message to Norton Craig, the city manager, for guidance.
In response, Craig said he had discussed the matter with Alan Zimmet, the city's legal officer, who seemingly blew off the question by asserting that the state statute on nepotism did not include cities.
Craig's response to Holmes said, "(Zimmet) has informed me that no state statute exists that addresses nepotism for local governments" and went on to say that Florida Statute 116.111 is used as guidance on employment of relatives.
In fact, there is no Florida Statute 116.111.
Apparently on information he received from Zimmet, Craig goes on to quote statutory language and wrote, "The key word is 'agency,' which…is meant for agencies at the state level."
The applicable statute on "Restriction on employment of relatives" is F.S. 112.3135, which says, in part -
(1) In this section, unless the context otherwise requires:Thus, the statute clearly includes a city in its provision.
The statute goes on to define a spouse as a relative under the statute and goes on to define what is unlawful -
"Public official means an officer, including a member of the Legislature, the Governor, and a member of the Cabinet, or an employee of an agency in whom is vested the authority by law, rule, or regulation, or to whom the authority has been delegated, to appoint, employ, promote, or advance individuals or to recommend individuals for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement in connection with employment in an agency, including the authority as a member of a collegial body to vote on the appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement of individuals."
The argument made by some is that Schubert, as an assistant city manager, has the power to "recommend individuals for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement in connection with employment."
"Look," said a former City Commission member who asked to be not identified, "out of fairness to Henry a determination should be made by competent legal authority. This would seem to be the Attorney General's office."
After Holmes passed on Craig's initial response to Monroe, who is otherwise unidentified, Monroe responded with this -
"Dear Commissioner Holmes - Thank you for your response and I appreciate Mr. Craig's immediate attention to my question. However, from my research and information, Mr. Zimmet's view appears to be mistaken, as I understand it. The gist of Florida's nepotism statute in terms of scope is as follows -Zimmet responded to this on Wednesday, through Craig, and had a different view than he had originally expressed. In passing on the information to Holmes Craig wrote, "I have asked (Zimmet) to respond to Mr. Monroe's e-mail indicating that (Zimmet) could be wrong in his interpretation of a State Statue regarding nepotism. Below is his answer. This is basically the information I provided yesterday."
Of course, the information Craig provided the previous day was exactly 180 degrees from the version Zimmet sent correcting himself -
"Mac, The statute (Monroe) is referring to prohibits a public official from appointing, employing, promoting or advocating for appointment, employment or advancement a relative to a position in the agency. This provision does apply to cities. 'Public Official' does include employees with the authority to appoint, employ, promote or advance, or recommend for appointment, employment, promote or advance an individual for employment in the city. It does not pertain to a situation where two relatives are both employees of a city and doesn't even prevent one city employee from supervising a relative…
"The statute would prohibit (Schubert) from advocating a promotion for his wife."
One local legal authority said, "It appears that Mr. Zimmet has an internal contradiction in this statement. If anything, the statute does pertain to a situation where two relatives are both employees of the city…And he says the statute would prohibit Mr. Schubert from advocating a promotion for his wife even though he is theoretically in a position due to his job where he could do so."
This person echoed the idea that a ruling of some sort should be requested because "I don't believe Schubert is in a nepotism situation and in fairness to him this should be stated by some authority."
Regardless of the whirling storm of controversy, Craig was adamant, and seemingly belligerently so, in telling Holmes by email -
"There is no nepotism involved with the employment by the city of Mr. and Mrs. Schubert. Dealing with this issue has been a complete waste of time for everyone involved and I do not plan to address the issue further."
One observer said, "It is startling that Mr. Craig considers the inquiry by a citizen a complete waste of time."
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