By Jane Smith
Ex-Delray Beach City Manager Mark Lauzier sued the city on April 29, claiming his firing was in retaliation for not allowing the mayor to fly her 15-year-old son to Tallahassee at taxpayers’ expense.
Lauzier was fired by the City Commission at a March 1 public meeting after the city’s internal auditor testified about “questionable hiring and promotion practices” and other red flags raised earlier this year.
Lauzier’s Palm Beach County Circuit Court lawsuit, though, gives another reason to explain his firing. Three days before he was fired, Lauzier denied Mayor Shelly Petrolia’s request to have the city pay $291 for her son’s plane ticket to Tallahassee, according to the lawsuit.
Petrolia had charged two Tallahassee plane tickets on a city purchasing credit card, which she is allowed to do provided she reimburses the city.
Both were going to the state capital for the first week of the legislative session, she had 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.
The mayor wanted them to be on the same flight in case her son got bumped, she had said. Petrolia reimbursed the city the following day, Feb. 26.
Petrolia declined to comment about the lawsuit on the advice of the city attorney.
Lauzier’s lawsuit claims his firing violates the state’s Whistleblower Act. The law protects workers from retaliation after they report unethical or illegal acts by their employers.
But, it was Commissioner Ryan Boylston who wanted to call the special meeting. He had met with the city’s internal auditor, Julie Davidyan, in late February to listen to her concerns about the city manager.
Boylston decided to think about her concerns over the weekend and met with Lauzier on Feb. 26.
But Boylston 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 — bolstering his claim that he was wrongfully fired.
But, the lawsuit didn’t say the pay vote was 3 to 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, the 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.
His lawsuit seeks a jury trial.
On April 5, Lauzier’s attorney, Isidro Garcia, had sent a demand letter to the city, seeking $500,000. Garcia’s letter said Lauzier was owed a minimum of $279,200 for 20 weeks of pay at his current salary, health insurance benefits for one year and earned leave, sick and vacation days. The remaining amount was for damages to his reputation and to his good name.
The city’s outside counsel responded in a mid-April letter that read, “Mr. Lauzier’s claims are wholly without merit.”
Davidyan presented her findings to city commissioners individually and to the City Commission on March 1, consistent with the City Charter, attorney Brett Schneider wrote to Garcia.
Schneider’s response also states that Lauzier’s rights were not violated under Amendment 14 of the United States constitution because he was given sufficient opportunity to clear his name at the March 1 meeting.
Schneider also wrote the city is willing to allow Lauzier to appear before the City Commission for “the specific purpose of clearing his name.”
As to the whistleblower charge, Schneider wrote: “Mayor Petrolia was specifically told that she could purchase tickets and other items for her son using the city’s credit card, provided she reimbursed the city for said charges (which she did).”
Even so, the city is willing to meet in pretrial mediation, according to Schneider’s letter. The city gave Lauzier and his attorney until April 19 to respond.
Their answer was the Whistleblower lawsuit.