The Coastal Star

South Palm Beach: Town attorney resigns, citing conflict with council

By Dan Moffett

    Brad Biggs’ 11-year relationship with South Palm Beach ended abruptly Sept. 25 when the town attorney submitted his resignation, saying he had lost the support of some council members.
    “Some council persons now do not believe that I am the person they would desire to provide legal services for the town and they are unwilling or unable to accept such counsel from me,” Biggs wrote in a resignation letter. “I believe that ultimately, the only thing an attorney really can offer is wise and considered legal counsel.”
    Biggs said he needed the “full backing of every council member” to do his job, and without it, the only choice was resignation.
    “He’s been with us through thick and thin for 11 years,” said Vice Mayor Robert Gottlieb. “That was a real shocker.”
    Actually, it wasn’t that much of a shocker.
    Biggs had been pleading with the council for two years to approve a new contract for his services, and the council repeatedly ignored the request or postponed considering it. The attorney had been working on what was little more than a month-to-month handshake agreement since 2015.
     Meanwhile, Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan emerged as Biggs’ harshest critic on the council, faulting him for not advocating strongly enough for the town on the 3550 S. Ocean project at the old Palm Beach Oceanfront Inn site.
    Jordan also criticized Biggs for not being accessible enough and not ensuring council meetings were run in an orderly manner.
    “I honestly have no idea what she’s talking about,” Biggs said at one point during the dispute. He told the council:  “I very much feel kind of bullied.”
    The attorney offered to work out of Town Hall to improve accessibility and agreed to run a workshop on Robert’s Rules of Order to educate the council on meeting protocols. Neither action materialized, and instead Jordan encouraged the council to advertise for legal services and consider replacing Biggs.
    Last spring, the attorney lost his staunchest supporter on the council with the sudden death of then Vice Mayor Joe Flagello, who had described Biggs’ job performance as “outstanding.”
    Mayor Bonnie Fischer said the council will move quickly to find an interim replacement for Biggs and then fill the position permanently.
    It has been a stormy period for relations with high-level staff.
    In late 2014, the town hired Jim Pascale of Princeton, N.J., to fill the town manager opening. Six months later he resigned after philosophical disputes with the council that included whether South Palm Beach should continue to exist as an incorporated municipality.
    The town went about six months without a manager until Bob Vitas, a former Key West city manager, was hired in November 2015. Vitas, 60, has complained repeatedly in recent months that the town’s charter requires that the council review his contract and performance each year — consideration that includes possible merit raises,  benefits and perks such as car allowance. But that hasn’t happened, so Vitas is working under a contract the town may have breached.
    Vitas’ relationship with the town may be sealed at the council’s Oct. 24 meeting. On Sept. 28, council members approved a budget for 2018 — but excluded dealing with the manager’s pay issues. The council plans to take that up at the October meeting, and Jordan says she wants to settle her difference of opinions over compensation with Vitas then “once and for all.”
    Kevin Hill, a resident of Palmsea condominiums, told council members he was concerned about losing experienced employees the town needs to oversee big projects that might be coming, including the possible renovation of the Town Hall, the 3550 S. Ocean development and beach stabilization.
    “I think you guys really need to pay attention to what you’re doing,” Hill said. “If you have a mass exodus of employees, the town could be in trouble. I don’t know what’s going on, but you need to take care of these people.”

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