The Fort Myers Beach Town Council received a formal request for a reconsideration hearing in the termination of former Town Manager Don Stilwell on Wednesday, June 8th.
The letter, written by George H. Knott of Knott Ebelini Hart law firm went beyond the hearing request and laid out what he claims are violations of Stilwell’s “Constitutional right to procedural due process.”
The letter claims that Stilwell, as a public sector employee, is “entitled to notice and an opportunity to respond in a pre-termination hearing.” He is also entitled to “an explanation of what evidence the Town of Fort Myers Beach possesses to justify the allegation of nonfeasance with regard to his obligations as Town Manager.”
Knott continues by stating that the mayor’s motion at Friday’s Town Council meeting was deficient as it merely alleged nonfeasance without “providing any factual basis to justify a ‘for cause’ termination.”
“This deficiency in the notice provided to Mr. Stilwell, along with the decision to terminate without providing a pre-termination hearing constitute violations of Mr. Stilwell’s constitutional right to procedural due process,” Knott writes.
Aside from the failure to provide specific facts or a pre-termination hearing, Knott claims that there is no evidence to justify a “for cause’ termination. Noting the number of citizens who praised Stilwell’s work at Friday’s meeting, Knott adds that there is a lack of written proof of any nonfeasance.
“There are no write-ups in Mr. Stilwell’s personnel file, no annual review was ever performed with regard to Mr. Stilwell’s performance) in contravention of his employment contract), and no meaningful issue discovered with regard to any audit performed with regard to the Town’s finances. In short, there is simply no documentary evidence that the Town of Fort Myers Beach has ever been injured as a result of nonfeasance by Don Stilwell.”
Knott adds that the council’s actions appear to be the result of “political machinations of certain Council Members,” specifically those who wished to make good on their campaign promises.
The rush to judgement and resultant vote, an issue brought up by at least two council members at last Friday’s meeting, was singled out by Knott as bringing up the question of whether a violation occurred regarding the council’s “obligation to conduct public business in the sunshine.”
Concluding, Knott points out that Stilwell’s contract provides for Town Council to terminate his employment “for convenience” or without cause and suggests that would be a less costly option for the Town.
Stilwell’s contract specifies that termination without cause includes a severance payment equal to 20 weeks of base salary and a full release by Stilwell of any claims against the Town.
As of press time the reconsideration hearing had not yet been scheduled.