By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
January 3, 2018
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The Tallahassee City Commission met for a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss a variety of pressing issues facing the city.
Among the topics were the resignation of City Manager Rick Fernandez, filling two appointed positions and settling a lawsuit with the Tallahassee Democrat.
First, the commission voted unanimously to accept a resignation agreement made between Fernandez and the City Attorney. Under that agreement, Fernandez will receive a $94,000 severance package and all retirement benefits. Although some residents criticized the dollar amount, Mayor Andrew Gillum said it was the right move.
"You can't even put a price tag on what it would've meant for the turmoil of the government, the continued cloud, that could've had the impact of inhibiting really good work from taking place. I do think it was important that we got this resolved," said Gillum.
Fernandez was on paid administrative leave since November 8 following an ethics investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics. He was accused of accepting football tickets to a Florida State University football game and receiving a $5,000 catering discount from the city-backed restaurant, The Edison.
As for the filling of two vacant positions, the commission voted to move forward with interviews scheduled for several candidates for the next City Attorney. Those interviews will be conducted on January 17. City Attorney Lew Shelley will retire on January 31.
The other vacant position is the City Auditor position.
The commission voted to move forward and begin the process to search for candidates. City Auditor Bert Fletcher retired at the end of 2017. Don Hancock, the current Senior Audit Manager for the city, was approved to serve as the Interim City Auditor.
Finally, the commission approved a settlement with the Tallahassee Democrat regarding public records and text messages.
The lawsuit was filed on November 29 and accuses the city of failing to comply with public records law after a reporter requested text messages sent and received by Rick Fernandez. The city said the requested texts did not exist, but it was later discovered that they did. It's alleged that the texts were deleted by Fernandez.
City Attorney Lew Shelley admitted that the city was not complying with the law when it came to retaining text messages however, it has now adopted a policy to handle that. He said, "it will be difficult and time consuming" to archive all city text messages, but it is necessary.
The new adopted policy includes the following rules:
1. Transmission of any public record via text message over private cellular phone is prohibited (unless communication is captured and retained by City system, e.g., transmission to City-owned cellular phone).
2. Transmission of any public record via email over private email server (e.g., @gmail.com, @yahoo.com) is prohibited.
3. Transmission of any public record via electronic means (e.g., instant messaging or personal messaging such as Facebook or Twitter) where communication is not captured and retained by City is prohibited.
4. All text messages transmitted or received over City-provided cellular phones will be captured and retained system-wide.
5. Any public record transmitted, sent or received via text message or email shall be retained in City system.
6. City leadership team (appointed officials, city management and department heads) and elected officials will file an annual statement confirming compliance with the public records law and city public records policies.
7. Violation of the public records law, or city policies concerning public records, shall be grounds for disciplinary action.
In addition, there will be no charge for records under 100 pages and that do not exceed the staff time of two hours to compile.
The commission will meet again next week on January 10 for its annual retreat. That begins at 9 a.m. at the Tallahassee International Airport.