BELLEAIR BEACH -- Frank Lombardi, a former council member who also once served as deputy mayor in Belleair Beach, brought to the attention the City Council on November 15 the plight of a former city employee.
Buell Vann, who had been the city's director of public works, lost his job about a year ago when the city sold its sewer system to Pinellas County. Since then, he has been sick and disheartened as the result of his treatment by Belleair Beach.
By all accounts and evidence, Vann was left in the lurch last December after almost a quarter of a century of employment in which he received high praise from residents and officials.
Despite his long service, he received no severance pay, although his understanding was, a year ago, that he would be compensated.
As it turned out, Vann received less than $5,000 in vacation pay and sick pay to which he was entitled.
He was told he would have a job with the county as part of the sewer sale.
Vann wrote a letter dated November 5 to Bert Cutler, a council member who was Presiding Officer last year when Vann was dumped. In the letter, he reminded Cutler that "a year ago I spoke with you in regard to severance pay I would receive in leaving employment with the city. You told me at that time that the city ‘would be fair to me.'"
Lombardi, taking up Vann's cause, distributed that letter to council members Monday night. It is not known if Cutler shared the letter with his colleagues prior to Lombardi's action but, in any event, the Vann letter to Cutler is a public record.
Vann said in the letter, "We discussed me receiving something in the order of $64,000 which represented at that time my compensation package with the city, salary and benefits. Part of the reason for that was your recognition of my service of more than 24 years with the city. I felt after we had talked that I would be compensated and treated fairly."
Vann says he has heard nothing from the city in regard to severance pay. He had to employ a lawyer to even get the city to give him his sick pay.
In Vann's November 5 letter to Cutler he said, "the citizens of Belleair Beach do not know how badly I was treated by the city. I would like to know when I will receive what you indicated would be ‘fair treatment?'"
The city had no problem accepting $934,000 from the county for the sewer system. Because of exorbitant overcharges assessed by the city for sewer service a rebate system was established, but Belleair Shore, which was part of the system, is not satisfied with that and has threatened legal action against Belleair Beach.
Even before he was fired, Vann feels today that he was being set up for a personal disaster in his life.
Today, Vann says that when Mayor Mike Kelly was first elected (in 2001) "I wasn't bothered by him. I was able to continue doing my job as the Director of Public Works as I had done in the past under about 10 mayors before him from whom I received good reviews and ratings on my job performance."
Vann said that after Kelly took office he began to notice that the mayor was developing a close relationship with Earnest Armistead, the police chief, (Kelly and Armistead are long-term friends) and Tina Skaggs.
Vann said that his working life soon became very uncomfortable with him being subjected to "daily interrogations from the mayor and his friends and they watched every move I made."
Vann, a department head, said he tried to talk to the mayor but was stalled by Skaggs, who Kelly had promoted from a low ranking job to being his assistant with a whopping $8,000 raise in 2003.
Skaggs, Vann says, would always tell him that he needed to make an appointment but when he attempted to do this he says, "the mayor was always ‘busy,' with the door closed, meeting with the police chief, Skaggs or Sergeant (Mike) Coleman."
Vann said he discussed this continuing problem over the next year with the city clerk and city treasurer, asking why he was the only one who needed an appointment to see the mayor.
"Because I could not get to see him, I wrote some memos pertaining to city business and my job. Kelly's response was to tell me he did not want anything at all in writing from me," Vann says.
Vann says that Kelly would never give him any orders or instructions in writing, but instead relayed messages through Skaggs.
"As a result," he says, "I found myself doing work that may or may not have actually come from the mayor. This evidently was the case, because I would later be confronted by the mayor and asked why I had done or was doing something without his knowledge."
Vann says that he responded by saying that any orders he received had come from Skaggs and complained that he could not get an appointment with him. "He said that he would be available in the future."
Then, Vann says, Kelly began to "micro-manage me to the point where could not function. I would turn in official papers that required a signature, requisitions for purchases or purchase orders. These would lie on his desk for many weeks."
This resulted, Vann says, in the city treasurer asking about projects that had become delayed, contractors calling and residents wanting to know when he would start work on projects.
"I was told not to talk to any one regarding what was happening in the city or I would lose my job," Vann says. "I was not invited to attend any council meetings. I was gagged to a point where I started suffering from nerve problems from being confined to my office space. I was also told that at my age a good paying job would not be easy to come by. So the mayor made it clear that unless I did every thing he told me legal or illegal I would lose my job."
Vann said in addition to being blocked in the performance of his job, he was constantly monitored. "Any time that I spoke to any one in the view of a police officer I was questioned as to the content of my conversation. When I asked, ‘why do you want to know?' They would reply, ‘the mayor wants to know, you are not supposed to talk to anyone.'"
"When the sewer system was being sold I was told by the mayor that I was going to be a ‘sacrificial lamb' and I was going to the county. I asked him why me and not one of my employees who was actually working in sewer system. I hired Howard Chavis for this job and he had been working in the sewer system for almost 15 years. I told the mayor that the county wanted the person that was actually working in the sewer. I told the mayor also, that I am the director of the whole department of public works and that I am supervising other employees and that sewer was only a part of my duties. The mayor said, ‘I don't care. You are going to the county or you will have no job.' He also told me that if I ever were to complete my needed five years for retirement that it was going to be a hard five years for me, if at all."
Vann says that when he was fired from the city his understanding from city officials was that he was going to be in a job that was similar or equivalent to the one he had. Instead, he says, "I was given a hard labor job or no job at all in Pinellas County."
Vann says he is now unable to work becaused of a nervous breakdown and is under medical treatment for depression, anxiety, stress, and panic attacks.
Kelly was not available for comment on these charges. Inquiries to his office have been met by the response that "he has been advised by legal counsel not to talk to the Clearwater Gazette & Beach Views."
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