published: Friday, September 27, 2013
Pension board to hire a lawyer
By PHIL ATTINGER
AVON PARK -- In a argumentative meeting that was attended by City Manager Julian Deleon, the Avon Park Police Pension Board voted 3-1 Thursday to retain an attorney, just in case the city takes legal action.
Board member Jason Lister, elected to succeed ousted member Greg Warner as chairperson, voted against retaining attorney Matt Mierzwa of Lake Worth for up to $8,000.
The Avon Park City Council removed Warner as chairperson of the Police Pension Board Monday and asked City Attorney Gerald Buhr to send a letter asking the pension board to comply with the city's public records request by Oct. 11.
If not, Buhr has been authorized to sue for release of those records when he returns from vacation on Oct. 12.
The pension board opted to retain Mierzwa just in case the City Council makes good on that threat, since board attorney Scott Christiansen doesn't handle litigation.
The board agreed Thursday to hold a joint meeting with the City Council at 5 p.m. Oct. 17. No agenda of items to discuss has been set yet.
Councilman Parke Sutherland, liaison to the board, said he would hope that the pension board can satisfy the records request before Oct. 11 and save the city and pension board from a lawsuit.
"I want to avoid litigation at all costs," Sutherland said.
The board authorized Carol Knapp, pension plan administrator, to hire a computer expert -- for up to $1,000 -- to help her search and compile email messages to fulfill the city's request for information.
Knapp said that searching email and finding the pertinent files was an area of expertise and was not willing to let "just anyone" go into her personal computer or email account to help her find messages and documents.
Knapp also said she's already had Mierzwa helping her to interpret requests for records sent by Deleon, which she said have changed several times.
Mierzwa, in a letter to the pension board, said he had already spent time beyond the $2,500 billable hours spending cap the board had set for his services answering requests that have been "extensive, changing and inconsistent."
Deleon said he merely added to requests, but Christiansen said he had seen requests change from asking for certain items to stating those items were not needed.
He said the city had been waiting eight weeks for the records, which was "unacceptable."
Knapp said she didn't want to discuss further what records were required because that's was the point of the joint meeting on Oct. 17.
Lister asked Knapp to explain why emails appear to talk about terminating the pension plan and were only sent to certain members.
Knapp said she had received several inquiries from police officers about the pension plan last October when the city transitioned from having its own police department to contracting with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office.
Officers who were vested and who weren't vested in the city-based pension plan wanted to know what would happen to their retirement funds, she said. She referred them to officials in Tallahassee who understood the differences between the city plan and the Florida Retirement System.
"This board cannot close or terminate the plan," Knapp said. "Only the city can do that."
Lister then asked why Knapp sent emails to only the board chair and not to other board members, and Knapp said that was board policy because sending to everyone would put her and the other members at risk of violating Florida's Sunshine law.
Florida Statute, Chapter 286, bars members of governmental or quasi-judicial boards from using phones or electronic communication to discuss matters pertaining to public business. A message may be sent, but once members start having a dialogue, they could fall victim to a violation.
Such communications are public record, which is why Deleon is asking for them.
"What's getting lost (in this issue) is that the public or retirees have a right to call and ask anything," Knapp said.
Deleon accused Knapp and Warner of having an agenda and Lister said he was tired of the "negativity" surrounding the issue.
Knapp said she sent the emails that were requested and was "tired of the lying."
Former police officers Jose Molina and Jamie Davidson said they were frustrated all the arguing.
"The way I feel about this, it hurts," Molina said. "I think we deserve better, OK? I hope you figure out how to solve this problem."
Davidson, a former board member, said he only saw a political agenda surrounding the management of his, Molina's and other officers' money.
Sutherland said the arguments over public records would not endanger the retirement plan, but Davidson said any legal costs would still affect the city's bottom line and he didn't agree almost 20 years ago to put his "life on the line" to be worried about his pension and the board being sued over public records.
"This is going to get bad if some people don't step up and just plain talk (about it). Get this out in the open," Davidson said.
Warner was present at Thursday's meeting, but did not address the board.
In related business, Lister suggested and the board voted to look for a web-based email service for board business to make pulling emails for public records requests easier and faster.
blindman (by: going blind why? - 10/2/2013)
Needs to watch blindman.
tax payer's comment (by: Blindman~ - 10/1/2013)
Taxpayer's comments confirm my original comment about Warner. The funny part is where he has to assure Warner that he is "a honorable man". Lmao!
Blind Woman (by: Blindman~ - 10/1/2013)
Blind Woman? Fancy meeting you here~ what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? hmmm
Anyone getting the letters? (by: Patsy - 9/30/2013)
Its been a week that I got a very distasteful facebook picture of one of the candidates in all his freaky glory and even more distasteful comments posted on his his website by himself.
Blindman? (by: deafdude - 9/30/2013)
Seems he see's better than his name implies. but really, who cares? no one signs off their name and anyone can use that name even if not the original blindman.
Appears (by: Blind Woman - 9/30/2013)
Who is this "Blindman"?
Breaking the law (by: emu - 9/29/2013)
These people hiding all these public records should not be above the law.. The irony is that they are all either retired cops (Bubba) or been around law enforcement practically all their lives.
hope (by: g - 9/28/2013)
That's not it.. that looks good on paper butt, no there is something even move exciting coming down the pike.
Here is the truth (by: baba - 9/28/2013)
If Bubba, C-gun Remick, and Anusderson have their way the PD will be shutdown to leave three good officers unemployed for Mayor Bubba to get his millions on tax payers back.
Deleon the puppet master (by: tax payer - 9/27/2013)
Any reasonable person can see that Deleon is campaigning for Shuller and Sutherland through this propaganda. These retired, and active law enforcement officers deserve so much more respect and dignity. Deleon is a cancer, and now Lister is slithering with the serpent as a new puppet. Mr. Warner, you have my vote, you are a honorable man. Shame on you Deleon, justice always prevails, and why am I being double taxed for two police agencies and two separate pension plans?
Re: (by: Guest - 9/27/2013)
Well of course Lister voted no. He's Julian's little lap dog..
Carol Knapp... Please! (by: Blindman~ - 9/27/2013)
Carol Knapp claims only the city can terminate the pension plan but... that appears to be one of the reasons Warner & Remick are trying to get on the council with Anderson so they can vote to terminate it. This would cost Avon Park millions and send the City into another tailspin of debt the way it was before. The City manager appears to be aware of their intentions and the citizens should be too!
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