17
Sat, Nov
17 New Articles

Local
Typography
HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs, which continues to find itself embroiled in one legal battle after another, was slammed Sept. 21 with a lawsuit from former City Planner Christian Popoli.  The suit alleges that the City wrongfully terminated his employment earlier this year and that City officials violated state public records and Sunshine laws.

At the heart of the lawsuit filed by Attorney Linda Rice Chapman on behalf of Popoli is the claim that Mayor Dean Davis and Vice Mayor Bob Barnas sought Popoli’s ouster in retaliation for the city planner refusing to bend state and other laws.

Specifically referenced is a March 2, 2010 telephone conversation in which then Commissioner Dean Davis allegedly threatened Popoli with his job.  That conversation was reportedly in reference to state building codes that Davis hoped to have overlooked on one of his buildings or a building he was managing.

The incident did result in an ethics complaint against Davis.  The State ethics commission conducted a preliminary investigation, but determined that the evidence wasn’t sufficient to support a claim that Davis used his position as a commissioner to secure a special benefit to him or others.

Earlier this year, Barnas, Davis and Commissioner Linda Gestrin seemed to become frustrated with Popoli when the commission sought to provide tax abatement to Plantation Oaks retirement home.  There was fierce disagreement as to whether or not the property met the criteria for the tax abatement.  The lawsuit quotes Davis as saying, “It’s a problem and we got to find our way to get around it…Our city staff doesn’t feel like we need to do that.”

Also in the lawsuit are gripping details about how certain commissioners reportedly asked then Interim City Manager Jeri Langman to fire Popoli during her first days on the job.  But when Langman refused, those commissioners looked to other ways to push Popoli out, the complaint alleges.

It goes on to assert that Mayor Davis, Vice Mayor Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin illegally used the City’s budget as a mechanism to manipulate the City administration and staff, particularly writing Popoli’s position out of it.  The Commission narrowly adopted a mid-year budget amendment that inserted an unfunded City Engineer position.  Just weeks later, the Commission changed the budget to move funds from Popoli’s position as City Planner to the City Engineer position.

Davis and Barnas are named dozens of times throughout the case, alluding to instances in which commissioners used their power to intimidate staff.

In one such instance, now former City Attorney Ray Ivey wrote in an email that he was “concerned about whether Plantation Oaks met the criteria [for tax abatement].”  Just days later, Barnas wrote back to Ivey, “I felt we had a product that would get Planation Oaks a tax rebate or abatement…you backed off and stated you basically could not do this because of the ordinance…should anything that you are not sure will fly when presented…inform the Manager…that the item should be farmed out…”

The implication in the lawsuit is that Barnas was threatening Ivey that if he didn’t go along with something the commission wanted, they would simply find another attorney who would.

The lawsuit also notes that Popoli, who was hired by the City in 2006, was also named Employee of the Year in 2008.  It cites Popoli’s personnel file where performance evaluations described him as “clearly outstanding” and “exceeds expectations.”

The 45 page complaint is backed by several exhibits and also alleges that the City is violating public records laws as minutes for meetings since February 2012 are largely nonexistent.  That, the lawsuit says, is because the Commission meets so frequently that City staff cannot keep up with the workload.

Perhaps more disturbing is the claim that the Commission meets at times inconvenient for certain commissioners and the general public.  Additionally, the legal case charges that without prior notice, commissioners take official action on issues at special commission meetings and other meetings although such matters had not been advertised to the public.

#     #     #

Email editor@alachuatoday.com

HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs, which continues to find itself embroiled in one legal battle after another, was slammed Sept. 21 with a lawsuit from former City Planner Christian Popoli.  The suit alleges that the City wrongfully terminated his employment earlier this year and that City officials violated state public records and Sunshine laws.

At the heart of the lawsuit filed by Attorney Linda Rice Chapman on behalf of Popoli is the claim that Mayor Dean Davis and Vice Mayor Bob Barnas sought Popoli’s ouster in retaliation for the city planner refusing to bend state and other laws.

Specifically referenced is a March 2, 2010 telephone conversation in which then Commissioner Dean Davis allegedly threatened Popoli with his job.  That conversation was reportedly in reference to state building codes that Davis hoped to have overlooked on one of his buildings or a building he was managing.

The incident did result in an ethics complaint against Davis.  The State ethics commission conducted a preliminary investigation, but determined that the evidence wasn’t sufficient to support a claim that Davis used his position as a commissioner to secure a special benefit to him or others.

Earlier this year, Barnas, Davis and Commissioner Linda Gestrin seemed to become frustrated with Popoli when the commission sought to provide tax abatement to Plantation Oaks retirement home.  There was fierce disagreement as to whether or not the property met the criteria for the tax abatement.  The lawsuit quotes Davis as saying, “It’s a problem and we got to find our way to get around it…Our city staff doesn’t feel like we need to do that.”

Also in the lawsuit are gripping details about how certain commissioners reportedly asked then Interim City Manager Jeri Langman to fire Popoli during her first days on the job.  But when Langman refused, those commissioners looked to other ways to push Popoli out, the complaint alleges.

It goes on to assert that Mayor Davis, Vice Mayor Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin illegally used the City’s budget as a mechanism to manipulate the City administration and staff, particularly writing Popoli’s position out of it.  The Commission narrowly adopted a mid-year budget amendment that inserted an unfunded City Engineer position.  Just weeks later, the Commission changed the budget to move funds from Popoli’s position as City Planner to the City Engineer position.

Davis and Barnas are named dozens of times throughout the case, alluding to instances in which commissioners used their power to intimidate staff.

In one such instance, now former City Attorney Ray Ivey wrote in an email that he was “concerned about whether Plantation Oaks met the criteria [for tax abatement].”  Just days later, Barnas wrote back to Ivey, “I felt we had a product that would get Planation Oaks a tax rebate or abatement…you backed off and stated you basically could not do this because of the ordinance…should anything that you are not sure will fly when presented…inform the Manager…that the item should be farmed out…”

The implication in the lawsuit is that Barnas was threatening Ivey that if he didn’t go along with something the commission wanted, they would simply find another attorney who would.

The lawsuit also notes that Popoli, who was hired by the City in 2006, was also named Employee of the Year in 2008.  It cites Popoli’s personnel file where performance evaluations described him as “clearly outstanding” and “exceeds expectations.”

The 45 page complaint is backed by several exhibits and also alleges that the City is violating public records laws as minutes for meetings since February 2012 are largely nonexistent.  That, the lawsuit says, is because the Commission meets so frequently that City staff cannot keep up with the workload.

Perhaps more disturbing is the claim that the Commission meets at times inconvenient for certain commissioners and the general public.  Additionally, the legal case charges that without prior notice, commissioners take official action on issues at special commission meetings and other meetings although such matters had not been advertised to the public.

#     #     #

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.