By Steve Plunkett
More than 10 weeks after Town Clerk Beverly Brown appealed an unpaid one-month suspension for forwarding racist and off-color emails at work on her official computer, town commissioners told their attorney to hire someone to review the case.
Town Attorney Tom Sliney said he had spoken several times since the election with new Mayor Bernard Featherman about who should hear the appeal.
“Probably a retired judge, many of whom are in mediation, probably would be an ideal person to handle that,” Sliney said at the Town Commission’s March 29 workshop.
“I think that’s the right thing to do, and we should get it done promptly rather than leaving people hanging,” Featherman added.
Under Highland Beach’s personnel rules, any employee suspended without pay for more than one day may request a hearing by an impartial hearing officer and receive “a prompt, public, evidentiary hearing.”
Sliney said he and Featherman also discussed the town’s contract with Dale Sugerman, the town manager who proposed suspending Brown and ended up being suspended himself, though with pay, for five months.
“We would like to have authorization to hire a labor attorney to give us a look at various aspects of the contract,” Sliney said. “While I don’t want to get specific on that, we’re going to ask you to approve an authorization next week to allow us to go out and hire an attorney and then report back to the commission.”
Beyond that, the theme of the workshop session was resurrecting the town’s volunteer boards. Featherman, who made the topic a campaign issue, had a proposed ordinance to revive the Code Enforcement Board put on the agenda.
That board was dissolved in 2009 in favor of having a special magistrate hear code disputes, but the language was left intact in case town officials decided to reestablish it, Sliney said.
“Likewise, if this ordinance passes, the language would basically remain the same in case the town decides to go back to a special magistrate at some time in the future,” Sliney said.
“We have a lot of great people in our own community, experienced, who are willing to serve. And I think it depends on who we have on that board to make it work,” Featherman said. “It is something that is important to our people here, and I would like to see it given back to the people too.”
Sliney said a survey done when the code enforcement ordinance was changed showed the trend is to have magistrates. “But it’s really a policy matter,” he said.
During the mayor and commissioner reports, Featherman repeated his call for citizen boards.
Several town boards that have been closed down, including the Financial Advisory Board and the Cultural Advisory Board.
“We don’t want people from the outside being paid that are not in our community that are going to make decisions for us because it has to be flexible,” Featherman said at the end of the workshop. “We have an unbelievable group of people that are our residents, in our community, both in the houses and the condominiums. We want to reach out to everybody.”
Featherman, who beat incumbent Jim Newill 440-419 for the mayor’s post, was sworn in March 11, as was new Commissioner Dennis Sheridan, who had no opponent. Commissioner John Sorrelli chose not to run.
The mayor’s first ‘’Coffee With Mayor Featherman’’ will be at 9:30 a.m. April 11 at Town Hall.
The emails in Brown’s computer archive include one alluding to President Obama and using the N-word and another that praises Canadians for not being politically correct atop a collection of non-PC billboards.
Sugerman planned to suspend Brown without pay, but town commissioners ordered him to put a reprimand in her personnel file instead. When he said he had to wait until Brown’s appeal of the suspension was heard, commissioners suspended Sugerman, though with pay, until his contract ends June 30.
Two weeks later they sent a registered letter telling Sugerman they would not extend his contract. The next week they sent Sugerman his annual evaluation, as required by his contract.