published: Friday, December 07, 2012
Rowan case to go before a jury
By BARRY FOSTER
AVON PARK -- After bouncing back from federal court, Judge J. David Langford this week issued a ruling in the action between the City of Avon Park and former Avon Park Police Chief Michael Rowan.
The case now will go to a jury trial.
However, exactly when that will occur is anybody's guess. Langford has ordered the hearing for April of 2013 and while Rowan's legal counsel, Robert Grizzard, said they are ready to proceed, Avon Park's labor attorney Brian Koji has informed the judge it appears he will have a conflict. Koji said at that time, he already is slated to be participating in the action of Jeanne Griffin-Moore against the City of Brooksville.
The suit stems back a year and a half, when Avon Park City Manager Julian Deleon suspended Rowan without pay after Rowan could not come to terms with the city on a separation agreement. The former chief came under fire after it was learned that he had investigated a number of city council members, including Mayor Sharon Schuler and Deputy Mayor Brenda Gray. Rowan said he conducted the probes following a number of citizen complaints.
Since that time, the Avon Park city council has all but given up the municipal police department, keeping three officers and turning the lion's share of law enforcement duties over to the Highlands County Sheriff's Office. The HCSO has taken over and remodeled the former Avon Park Police Department building with the three remaining Avon Park officers moved out to the fixed base operations building at the Avon Park Airport.
As it now stands, the lawsuit will have three phases. The first will be under the state's whistleblower provisions. That revolves around allegations that the investigation by the former chief revealed criminal conduct. Rowan contends that led to his termination. Moreover, the suit also charges the city both violated Rowan's contract as well as his due process.
The due process charge is linked to the city's arbitration process. Questions there have been raised about exactly on what an arbitrator or mediator would base their ruling. The hope now is that a jury will hear evidence of the contract, setting a template for further talks through the arbitration process. City council members had balked at the pact offered Rowan by former City Manager Bruce Behrens. However, Rowan contends that under the provisions of the city's charter, Behrens had every right to draw up the contract any way he wished.
In any case, that process now has been put on hold while the case wends its way through the court system. Once a ruling is made on the validity of the contract, the mediation process can resume.
What will be the outcome is not yet clear. Because the Avon Park police department has been dismantled, there is little chance of re-instatement to his former position. Rowan has not yet commented on what he would like to see as a specific outcome.
1st district court of appeals ruling (by: Ray Napper - 12/8/2012)
I think after the recent ruling about the whistleblowers at the local level his case will be tossed out soon. It says that he had to tell his boss and if I remember the reporting about it, when asked if he was doing it, he said No.
fianally (by: jim - 12/8/2012)
Well has anyone thought that with a jusry trial a the littlse secrets rge elected offcials didnt wsnt to come out, just might have that chance now Nahh!!! the city will settle before the let those little secrets come out
best report on this yet (by: BettyJo - 12/7/2012)
Its been how long? Thank you Mr Foster for bringing this issue to its most comprehensive yet.
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