By Jane Smith
Former City Manager Mark Lauzier lost his wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Delray Beach in a jury trial that ended before 2 p.m. Dec. 16.
Lauzier was seeking $248,659 in severance for five months of pay and benefits, seven months of paid leave and 12 months of health insurance benefits, his attorney, Isidro “Sid” Garcia, said in closing arguments that morning in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
“We are disappointed in the outcome and believe there are numerous grounds for appeal of court rulings that impacted the verdict,” Garcia wrote in a text message the next day. “We are considering appellate options.”
Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia was happy the taxpayers would not have to pay Lauzier anything.
“We will seek attorneys’ fees for the city,” she said.
The mayor did not know the amount spent on the more than 2-year-old lawsuit.
Petrolia, who testified as a witness, attended the closing “to show the jury that the city cared about the case.”
The judge instructed the jury about 11:50 a.m. and the jury reached a unanimous verdict less than two hours later, including time to eat lunch.
City commissioners unanimously fired Lauzier on March 1, 2019, after 16 months on the job. He filed a two-count lawsuit against the city on April 29 that year.
The first count, for whistleblower protection, was tossed out by a different Circuit Court judge on Nov. 18, 2019.
Lauzier had claimed the mayor fired him in retaliation for his denying her voucher for airplane tickets for herself and one of her sons to Tallahassee. (Petrolia said she was tending to family problems and forgot to reimburse the city for her son’s airline ticket.)
Shortly after Lauzier was hired in November 2017 he rewrote the city’s personnel manual so that it favored his choices. He did not update the City Charter or alert the mayor, as was required, according to a city audit.
Julia Davidyan, the city’s internal auditor, also found that Lauzier hired inexperienced staff at high salaries and promoted his assistant to an assistant city manager position when she did not have the required experience. Davidyan also was a witness at the trial.
City commissioners received her report in late February 2019. Commissioner Ryan Boylston met with Lauzier on Feb. 26, 2019.
But Boylston was not 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. Boylston also testified in the case.
Six weeks before Lauzier was fired he received a 4% raise, Garcia told the jury, trying to bolster the claim that Lauzier was wrongfully fired.
But Garcia did not say the vote was 3-2 with Petrolia and Commissioner Shirley Johnson against giving Lauzier a raise.
At an annual salary of $244,000, Lauzier was then the highest-paid Delray Beach employee.
He is now the budget manager for St. Lucie County government in Fort Pierce.
Delray Beach commissioners also fired Lauzier’s successor, George Gretsas, after five months on the job. Terrence Moore was named city manager in August, becoming Delray Beach’s fifth city manager in eight years.