LARGO - Patrick Bennett, fired in November as the city's risk manager, because he dared question billings by the city's lawyer, Alan Zimmet, has persisted in his case to an equally adamant City Commission that ignores him.
Two letters from Bennett to the commission in January press his case and cite questionable practices that seem to be beyond the reach of the commission to cure or do anything about.
The first of the letters, addressed to the mayor and city commissioners dated January 2, cites his concerns, expressed also when he was on the city payroll, about handling of the city's property insurance values, the insurance renewal process, and the city's handling of claims and litigation management.
Bennett says in the letter, "Surely the commission is mandated to investigate and make decisions on such matters although the city manager may have communicated to you that such matters are part of city operations and not the responsibility of the commission."
His comment points up the sad state of conditions with the commission which has rendered itself totally powerless and let all power drift into the manager's hands.
Pointing out that the city has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers, which seems to be more honored in the breach rather than its exercise, Bennett wants his firing investigated.
He says that his firing was unjustified, and that misrepresentations were made by Susan Sinz, the Human Resources Director (his boss), under duress and fear from City Manager Steve Stanton.
"It should be of critical concern to the commission that the city manager will appoint a current employee as risk manager to handle claims made against the city and coordinate litigation handled by the Zimmet Unice law firm," Bennet wrote.
Bennett maintains that "It is clearly a conflict of interest for the city attorney (Alan Zimmet) to be involved" in decision making involving claims and litigation.
Having received no reply to that letter, Bennett sent another letter dated January 23 to the mayor and commission.
In the second letter he points out how a longtime employee, fired for an off-work incident, was reinstated 11 months later with a cost to the city of $113,000.
Similarly, he cites the case of a "Largo police sergeant that had been fired for an off-duty incident by, at the direction of, or with approval of the city manager" who was reinstated at arbitration with demotion and received some back pay.
"One would wonder what type of history and associated costs the city has had as a result of fired employees challenging their firing when the city manager is in effect the decision maker," Bennett wrote.
He goes on to say, "Unfortunately, I experienced the wrath of the city attorney, and it seems ultimately the city manager, when I very reluctantly, and as a result innocuously raised questions about the billing and litigation practices of the city attorney's law firm because I was instructed to do so by my director when I was employed."
It is unclear, despite attempts to find out, exactly what Zimmet and his law firm get from Largo in the course of a year. Estimates run from $750,000 to $1 million. Zimmet alone is paid more than $2,000 a week for part time work.
Questions on Zimmet's role in passing legal work to his law firm have also been raised publicly at commission meetings by Curtis Holmes, a citizen.
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