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Monday, June 2, 2008

Daytona Beach Assistant City Attorney Marie Hartman demanding a Golden Parachute

Daytona Beach Assistant City Attorney Marie HartmanIn a highly controversial move, Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey decided to promote Assistant City Attorney Marie Hartman to the position of City Attorney. The action was recommended by Mayor Ritchey at the end of a City Commission public meeting on May 7th, but the subject was not on the agenda nor was publicly noticed.

The City Commission agreed in unison, and the surprise measure passed with no discussion nor consideration on whether to conduct a proper search or consider alternate candidates.

Mayor Ritchey indicated that "It was legal". We can't help but remember some famous words:

You know your country is dying when you have to make a distinction between what is moral and ethical, and what is legal.
John De Armond

The position was formerly held by City Attorney Bob Brown who retires in June. Brown has recently been the subject of several complaints filed with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida BAR. The complaints allege that Brown was negligent and "failed to protect taxpayers interest on numerous occasions."  The complaints cite Brown’s involvement in the city’s $180,000 overpayment for City Commissioner Rick Shiver’s home after a sewage back-flow incident and Brown’s negligence and cover-up of city employee fraud in the Beach Street condominium project.  Mr. Brown currently makes $158,000 a year.

Hartman is demanding a significant increase in salary: an over $20,000 a year raise for a total of $162,000 along with a highly uncommon Golden Parachute of at least an additional $162,000 in case her position is eliminated. Commissioner Pam Woods also supported the measure.

A Golden Parachute to a government employee?

Golden parachutes are contractual agreements in the business world between a company and a key top executive specifying that the employee will receive certain significant benefits if the employee is terminated. These contracts are highly irregular for public service employees.  Golden parachutes have been largely criticized by stakeholders pointing out that:

  1. Dismissal is a risk in any occupation, and executives are already well compensated.

  2. Executives already have a fiduciary responsibility to the company, and should not need additional incentives to stay objective.

  3. Golden parachutes don't specify that the executive has to perform successfully to any degree. In many high-profile instances, executives cashed in their golden parachute while under their stewardship their companies lost millions and thousands of workers were laid off as a result. In essence, they reaped large rewards by failing in their jobs.

Golden parachutes are never issued when there is a certainty the job will be eliminated. It just makes no sense and exposes the grantors to personal liability for breach of fiduciary duty to the company.

The position of City Attorney is likely to be eliminated in the near future as the city changes to a model of outsourcing its legal department as many other Florida Cities have done. This and many other changes are part of voter-requested changes in the Daytona Beach Charter. Taxpayer rights group STAND  (Striving Towards A New Daytona) has collected nearly ten thousand signatures requesting the charter amendment.

The STAND movement attempts to curtail what it alleges is the significant waste of financial resources of the public trust that the City Commission and city manager James Chisholm have engaged in the past few years. STAND petition citizen volunteers have faced numerous artificial obstacles created under the direction of the Daytona Beach City Commission, including police harassment, refusal to access city services and even a court challenge, which they won at the appellate level.Daytona Beach Mayor and President of John Hall Automotive Group, Glenn Ritchey

Mayor Ritchey is President and owner of Jon Hall Automotive Group, a $150 million automotive dealerships empire. He is widely considered to be one of the "Five Apostles", a group of multimillionaires  that are said to control Daytona Beach elected officials from behind the lines.

The Citizens' take:  No Transparency in the Daytona Beach City Commission

The lack of transparency just does not pass the smell test, specially given the self-administered financial crisis the City is undergoing. No city employee should have a guaranteed job.

City leader and corporate human resources executive Ron Bynum wrote a letter to the Daytona Beach News Journal, which refused to publish it. Here is the letter:

With over 20 years corporate human resource consulting and executive search experience, I question the rationale behind the Daytona Beach City Commissions’ promotion of Deputy City Attorney Marie Hartman to replace City Attorney Bob Brown.  Hartman’s demands for a salary equal to Brown’s are ridiculous.  Brown has almost 15 years more experience than Hartman, which was reflected in his salary. Hartman’s not qualified for Brown’s level of compensation.  If we’re going to pay the top of the salary range for a city attorney then our city commission owes it to taxpayers to interview other interested, qualified candidates besides Hartman.  It’s likely they’ll find someone better qualified, with more experience than Hartman for the same salary.

Hartman’s demand for ‘protection’ from STAND city charter amendments is ridiculous as well. No city employee should have a guaranteed job. A city’s changing financial position and taxpayer needs should determine what city staff positions are necessary. Not a guarantee of continuing employment under any circumstance.  If Hartman’s job is ‘protected,’ shouldn’t all senior staff positions be ‘protected’ as well?  If the city attorney’s office is eliminated by the STAND amendment what position would Hartman then hold?  Should residents have to pay her $160,000 to do a job she has no experience in and is not qualified for if her department is eliminated?

55% of Florida municipalities don’t use city attorneys.  They use independent law firms that save them hundreds of thousands of tax dollars annually.  Shouldn’t our  city commission have evaluated that option before just promoting Hartman and paying her top dollar.

Hartman’s comments make it appear she’s only concerned about her salary and guaranteeing her job  in Daytona Beach city government rather than performing at a high level and protecting taxpayers interests. Don’t residents deserve a city attorney that’s more concerned with doing an outstanding job and saving taxpayers’ money, especially if we’re paying that city employee almost $160,000 annually?  No wonder our city budget is $100 million more than other comparable Florida cities.  Our city commission continues to waste our tax dollars protecting city employees instead of operating in a financially responsible fashion.

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