The turbulent saga of the exit of former Town Manager Don Stilwell was wrapped up this week when he and Mayor Dennis Boback, representing the Town of Fort Myers Beach, signed a Separation Agreement and General Release.
The Town’s costs in the agreement come to nearly $100,000. Twenty weeks of severance pay totals $46,575. Accrued leave time is $48,953.99. In addition, $3,000 of Stilwell’s legal fees related to the June 3, 2016 termination were paid directly to the law firm of Knott Ebelini Hart. The firm had discounted the fees by $833 to arrive at the $3,000 invoice to the Town. Total Town cost: $98,528.99.
The agreement includes a ‘no admission of wrongdoing’ by either party and a covenant not to sue each other.
In addition, both Stilwell and the Town are bound by a non-disparagement clause, which calls for all parties to “refrain from making defamatory or disparaging remarks, comments, statements or writings about each other…”
Mayor Boback, who signed the agreement, indicated that he was certainly included in that prohibition as he signed the agreement. He added that he was pretty sure that the rest of Town Council was also. Whether advisory committees and staff would be included was a question for the Town Attorney, who is on vacation and unavailable for comment. He said that the responsibility of informing those associated with the Town who are included in that prohibition falls to Town Manager Jim Steele. Steele did not return our call before deadline.
Boback is relieved that the Stilwell situation has been resolved.
“I’m just glad it’s over and done with now.”
When asked about a search for a permanent Town Manager, Boback said he’s in no hurry.
“We have Mr. Steele, who has said he’d stay until the next election (March 2017), so there’s no big rush. I want to get through budget season, through September and see where we’re at. Who knows? Maybe Mr. Steele will want to stay.”
Don Stilwell was hired as Town Manager in early 2014. On June 3, 2016, Town Council voted 3-2 to terminate Stilwell “with cause” though Mayor Boback, who made the motion, declined to state what that cause was, referring only to “nonfeasance.” Boback told council that he had conferred with a private attorney who advised him on the subject of Stilwell’s termination. Council voted to hire Jim Steele as Town Manager at the June 3rd meeting.
The following week, on June 8th attorney George Knott requested a hearing for Stilwell. Knott’s letter pointed out that Stilwell was entitled to due process and a pre-termination hearing. He emphasized that there was no evidence to justify a “for cause” termination and suggested the Town consider changing the termination to ‘for convenience.’
Through a public records request, we learned that Boback sent that letter to former council member and attorney Bill Shenko, asking when he was available to discuss Knott’s letter. Any additional correspondence, if it exists, between Boback and Shenko regarding the termination of the Town Manager was not provided.
Declining to discuss a date for a hearing during a special budget work session on June 13th, Boback instructed Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert to confer with Knott to ‘find out what he wants.’ Then at the June 20, 2016 meeting, Boback amended his June 3rd motion to terminate Stilwell from “with cause” to “without cause.”
At that meeting Boback made it clear that he felt the original motion was right, and he was making the change against his better judgement.
“I am 100% certain that the determination of ‘with cause’ would be upheld,” Boback said on June 20th. “I’m doing this against my better judgment simply because it would cause a lot of chaos in the Town over the next year and I think we have enough things on our plate.”
All payments related to the agreement were to be paid by Friday.
Town Council next meets August 1st, after their July break.