Local News

AP employee flap apparently over

AVON PARK - The city employees who, according to a letter, had accused City Manager Julian Deleon of "intimidation" in the workplace have clarified their position, reportedly telling a city council member that Deleon is doing a "great job." In an Aug. 1 letter to the city council members, eight city workers called for Deleon to be placed on administrative leave immediately until an investigation is completed. "We cannot work under intimidation and fear any longer," the letter stated. Attorney Richard Sullivan, who was representing the employees, informed the city council of his clients' concerns at an Aug. 1 city council meeting.
"They are fearful of being fired, constantly," Sullivan told Highlands Today on Aug. 2. "If anyone raises any questions about how things are done they are targeted there." Sullivan and the employee concerns was listed on Monday's city council meeting agenda, but Sullivan was not present at the meeting. City Councilman Parke Sutherland said, at their request, he spoke to six of the city employees earlier in the day after receiving approval from Sullivan and The Florida Bar. He attempted to understand their concerns, Sutherland said. None of the city employees believed they were in a "hostile work environment" and they wanted to continue their commitment to helping the city manager who has performed a "great Job," Sutherland said. "They don't want an investigation." He added that they called for more "open communication" in the workplace. Sutherland said the workers said they had seen coworkers either being fired or voluntarily terminating their employment with the city, which caused them concern about their postilions with the city. Councilman Garrett Anderson asked Sutherland who had authorized him to speak with the workers. Sutherland responded he was authorized by the employees and the city manager. Anderson said he believed the council should have discussed the issue. "It seems out of order," he said. After Monday's council meeting, Sutherland said, "I thought it was a good result. I think that the city needs to focus on moving forward. These employees seem to be committed to helping the city manager help the city move on." Highlands Today asked Sutherland if he questioned the workers on why they made a complaint, but now they say everything is OK? Sutherland replied, "I am not at liberty to expand on that. What I committed to them was I would come here and present a statement for them collectively as a group." Deleon said Tuesday that according to the city charter, the city council is not allowed to intervene in the day-to-day management of city business, but he was agreeable to allowing Sutherland to meet with the city employees. "After he [Sutherland] spoke with the employees, they requested for me to attend," Deleon said. "It was communicated to me that although eight names were inserted on a non-signed letter ... that that did not represent the concerns of the group." The letter was written by one person and it did not represent their sentiment or their concerns, the employees told him, Deleon said. The names on the letter were Gladys Ortiz, Savitri Latchmansingh, Anita Worden, Cheryl Tietjen, LilyAnn Bermudez, Yarima Cuencas, Marnita English and Janet Shields. In an Aug. 2 letter, Deleon informed Budget and Accounting Supervisor LilyAnn Bermudez that she was being laid off effective Aug. 2. "The workflow is not getting done in accordance to my expectations," Deleon stated in the letter. Utility Billing Supervisor Gladys Ortiz has resigned, but she is currently working for the city, Deleon said. "She gave her two-weeks notice and is moving on." Bermudez and Ortiz did not meet with Sutherland or Deleon on Monday. It really boiled down to communication and there was a discussion about that, Deleon said. Deleon said he told the employees that they have a supervisor, department head and his office as the city manager. There is a chain of command and communication goes both ways. There is always room for improvement. "The council opted not to move forward with an inquiry; I'm moving forward with an inquiry," he said. "Because if there are concerns, I want to know about it. If there are specifics about things that I have done, I am certainly welcome to criticism." Deleon said the management firm Severn Trent Services will be evaluating the city's utility billing operations, perform a risk assessment and assist the city with any technical needs. "I have also expanded our Wicks Brown and Williams contract for CPA services to start assuming some of the more high liability items for the city such as reconciliations of bank statements, payroll and accounting duties, which had a backlog of back to Oct. 2012." mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826