By Jane Smith
Delray Beach is asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit that fired City Manager Mark Lauzier filed in Palm Beach Circuit Court claiming the city violated the state’s Whistleblower Act.
Lauzier sued Delray Beach on April 29, claiming his March 1 firing was in retaliation for not allowing the mayor to fly her 15-year-old son to Tallahassee at taxpayer expense. The Whistleblower Act protects workers from retaliation after they report unethical or illegal acts by their employers.
But the city’s outside counsel filed a reply on May 21 that states otherwise. In the motion to dismiss Count I, the Whistleblower complaint, Brett Schneider wrote that Lauzier wrongly relied on an Expedia travel itinerary for his reason in filing the suit.
Lauzier’s writing “Denied” and “Not official City employee travel — Must be reimbursed” Feb. 25 on the itinerary does not constitute the written complaint required by the Whistleblower Act, the city’s motion to dismiss says.
Further, the itinerary is not a protected disclosure under the Whistleblower Act, according to the motion. Delray Beach is asking the judge to dismiss that count with prejudice, meaning Lauzier cannot refile it.
Mayor Shelly Petrolia had charged two Tallahassee plane tickets on a city purchasing credit card, which she is allowed to do provided she reimburses the city.
Petrolia and her son were going to the state capital for the first week of the legislative session in March, she said. The mayor was going to lobby state representatives and senators during Palm Beach County Days. Her son, Anthony, was going to be a Senate page for one week.
Even so, it was Commissioner Ryan Boylston who wanted to call the special meeting on March 1. He had met with the city’s internal auditor, Julia Davidyan, in late February to listen to her concerns about the city manager.
Shortly after Lauzier was hired, he rewrote the city’s personnel manual so that it favored his staff choices, the auditor said. He did not update the city charter or alert the mayor, as was required.
He also hired inexperienced staff at high salaries and promoted his assistant to assistant city manager when she did not have the required experience, Davidyan found.
Boylston met with Lauzier on Feb. 26 but wasn’t satisfied with Lauzier’s answers and wanted to call the commission together to discuss the auditor’s concerns. City policy, though, allows only the city manager and mayor to call a meeting.
Boylston then reached the city attorney, who called the mayor to let her know that a colleague wanted to hold a special meeting. The city attorney explained why, and the mayor agreed to call the meeting.
Six weeks before Lauzier was fired, he received a 4 percent raise, the lawsuit says in an effort to bolster his claim that he was wrongfully fired.
But his lawsuit didn’t say the pay vote was 3-2. The mayor and Commissioner Shirley Johnson voted against giving Lauzier a raise.
At an annual salary of $244,000, Lauzier was the highest-paid Delray Beach employee.
As the city manager, he had the power to hire and promote, his lawsuit says. He is seeking severance to cover five months of pay and benefits, seven months of paid leave and a year of health insurance benefits.
On May 21, Schneider filed a separate document with the court, responding to Lauzier’s claim of breach of contract. That document denies the city breached Lauzier’s contract and denies he is owed damages.
The employment agreement that Lauzier signed allowed the city to fire him for cause, which Davidyan detailed at the March 1 meeting.
By Jane Smith