LARGO - An aggrieved former city employee who worked as the risk manager and was fired in a "shoot from the hip" move by City Manager Steve Stanton was back before the City Commission December 19 raising questions of how Stanton does business.
Patrick Bennett was fired on November 9, a day after receiving top grades in a job evaluation.
Bennett during his employment had raised questions on some billing by Alan Zimmet, the city's lawyer, whose firm is believed to take more than $700,000 a year out of city coffers.
Observers, connecting the dots, feel that Bennett was fired because he raised questions about Zimmet, who is a part time employee and is paid more than $2,000 a week.
The actual amount being channeled to Zimmet and his firm is unknown because of the apparent obscurity of Largo's records.
Bennett has filed a public records request for some of this billing and other information and not surprisingly the data has not been forthcoming with any speed. It is very sensitive, no doubt.
Zimmet and Stanton have what has been described as having a symbiotic relationship and Stanton has a tight grip on all city affairs including the kind of information being sought. Ordinarily a city's "custodian of records" (the city clerk in almost all cases) receives a public records request and responds quickly without reference to the clerk's superiors.
City Commission members, of course, do not have a clue about any of this.
On December 19, Bennett reminded the commission how he had been cut short in his comments two weeks before and laid out a succinct and interesting indictment of Stanton's methods.
He told the commissioners, "You have undoubtedly seen the city manager's December 1 letter to CBIZ admonishing them for their supposed errors in their calculations of the city's property values."
CBIZ is a nationwide company that provides services in a wide area of applications. In Largo's case it was estimating city property values for insurance purposes. The figures were also checked by a citizen, John Atanasio, who found many discrepancies.
"What you may not have been told by (Stanton)," Bennett continued, "is that CBIZ stands on their valuations and that city staff has been advised of this. You can also assume that (Stanton) is likely avoiding contact with CBIZ and their attempt to explain this to him. Historically, he avoids such calls from vendors when they try to contact him or explain or address an impulsive decision he has made."
Then Bennett described what he depicted as a breakdown between the city and the Public Government Insurance Trust.
"The Florida League of Cities and the Public Government Insurance Trust are the leading insurance carrier/agents for governmental entities in Florida," he said.
"For the past two years, the city enjoyed a good relationship with PGIT. This year, very late in the renewal process, a PGIT executive left an erroneous message on a city administrator's phone on a controversial issue. True to form, (Stanton) impulsively over-reacted and severed the renewal process with PGIT and required city staff to re-enter the market after the city's coverage had lapsed," Bennett said.
Bennett said the over-reaction alienated one of the best markets for city insurance. Bennett said that Stanton admonished the Human Relations director (Susan Sinz) for not being as outraged as he was.
Bennett asserted last Tuesday in his remarks before the commission that "there are significant problems with the city's handing of liability claims and management of litigation and the expenses associated with each."
He promised that he would give details to the commission on this at another time.
With his firing, Bennett said he would most likely be replaced with someone within city hall who knows "little, if anything, about claims and litigation management," and "who will be fearful of raising any questions of marginal claims and litigation decision-making" by Stanton or Alan Zimmet, the city lawyer.
He also said this -
"If the mayor or any city commissioner thinks (Zimmet) should be supervising or managing the claims or litigation cases against the city being defended by his law firm and that (Stanton) should be the primary claims decision maker as current practice exists, they are encouraged to reconsider.
"Clearly, (Stanton) has neither the knowledge, training nor experience to make quality decisions on workers compensation or liability claims . . . and (Zimmet) should not be supervising any claims or litigation that may ultimately be handled by the Zimmet Unice Law Firm. This is, without question, a conflict of interest, that directly impacts (Zimmet) financially."
Bennet said this practice is widely opposed by most or all of the city's administration with the exception of Stanton. "In fact," Bennett said, "(Stanton) readily admits that it is a conflict of interest and states he does not care."
Return to Home Page
Return to Current Edition