City Commission declines City Clerk’s request for severance pay, discusses eliminating Clerk as a charter officer
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In the evening portion of the May 18 Gainesville City Commission meeting, the commission declined the resigning City Clerk’s request for three additional months of service at her current pay and 20 weeks of severance pay. They also decided to explore moving the Clerk’s functions under the City Manager’s office and showed a new logo for Infrastructure Surtax projects.
The resignation of City Clerk Omichele Nattiel-Williams (formerly Gainey), effective June 30, was announced by City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut during the April 20 City Commission meeting. Chestnut said at the time that she was sorry to see her go, but “life is about change.”
Since that time, Nattiel-Williams drafted a second amendment to her employment contract and requested the commission’s approval of the amendment, which added 20 weeks of compensation as a severance package, including 20 weeks of base pay and 20 weeks of the City’s contributions to health insurance, life insurance, and retirement at her current rates, on top of unused and accrued PTO. The amendment also extended her retirement date to September 30 as a “time limited temporary employee” to provide transition assistance; during that time, she would be paid at her current salary, including health insurance, life insurance, and retirement. A third provision added a “Covenant Not to Sue,” which stated that Nattiel-Williams would never sue the City.
Chestnut led off the discussion by saying, “All of us were surprised, very surprised, when the Clerk tendered her resignation.” She said that the contract amendment would require the City to pay salaries and benefits for both Nattiel-Williams and an Interim Clerk for those 90 days: “Where I’m having some difficulty is that the Clerk enjoyed the full confidence of this board. We’re very pleased with her work product and did not ask for the resignation.”
Chestnut said the Clerk’s resignation had been voluntary, and she listed previous charter officers who had not received severance pay. She added, “All week, we’ve been discussing budget cuts and the decrements we’re going to have to make in order to continue providing the quality service that we provide to our citizens, and I think at this point we really can’t afford–we don’t have the funds to pay 20 weeks of severance when it was really offered voluntarily.” She said the commission previously voted to accept the resignation, and “I would just say we reaffirm acceptance of the resignation, with the Clerk completing her time June 30 and during the next month or so, devote time to training the Interim City Clerk.”
Commissioner Ed Book said he had planned to make similar points and asked City Attorney Daniel Nee to clarify what Nattiel-Williams’ current contract provides upon resignation. Nee said that there is a paragraph that says she will get 20 weeks of severance pay if her employment is terminated “during such time as the Clerk is willing and able to perform the duties of the Clerk,” but “I think the intent behind that provision and the plain language behind it is–a voluntary termination does not indicate the person being willing to perform the duties.”
Book also thought that several employees already have a lot of experience with the Clerk’s duties, “so the transition, in my estimation, is not needed for us to do a successful job… This has nothing to do with the person… This is a person who resigned under voluntary circumstances.”
Commissioner Casey Willits wasn’t in favor of severance pay, but he thought the City might need a transition period, and he also thought the paragraph prohibiting any lawsuits “seems like a good potential thing.” He wondered whether they could direct staff to draft a new agreement with those provisions but without the severance pay.
Ward reminded the commission that they didn’t need to make a motion.
Commissioner Reina Saco asked about the schedule for hiring an Interim Clerk and was told that the application window is open until May 24 and that any submitted resumes would be sent to the Mayor on May 26 and then forwarded to commissioners. Two candidates have submitted applications at this time. The commission could appoint an Interim Clerk at their June 1 or June 15 meeting.
Ward concluded, “Seeing no lights, we will move forward with the already accepted resignation.”
Eastman proposes reducing number of charter officers
During commission comment, Commissioner Bryan Eastman said it had been brought to his attention that “we may have the opportunity to go in a direction with the Clerk position that I think is… long overdue for the City of Gainesville.” He brought up a comment Ward had made the previous day about six charter officers answering to seven commissioners. He said Tallahassee only has a City Manager, Orlando has a strong mayor and City Manager, and some places have a City Manager and City Attorney. He recalled that the Charter Review Commission had considered moving to a strong mayor system in Gainesville “as a way to increase accountability, as a way for the residents to feel that we are more responsive to their needs.” He said that when they brought that to the League of Cities, the League said a strong mayor is more appropriate for a larger city than Gainesville but that Gainesville’s system is “ripe for conflict.”
Eastman said the City Charter states that the commission “may employ” a City Clerk, so during the transition period, they could pass the City Clerk’s responsibilities to the City Manager, perhaps by passing an ordinance: “I think it’s something that we should consider, even for a short period of time, as we go through the end of [Nattiel-Williams’] contract and the budget year. Maybe reassess in 2025.”
Chestnut said she was “a bit thrown” by the suggestion. After some back-and-forth, she and Eastman concluded that if the commission decided the Clerk would no longer be a charter officer, the City Manager would be responsible for hiring the Clerk or whatever staff is necessary to perform those functions. Chestnut said, “Well, that’s worth thinking about.”
Willits was concerned that the discussion could affect the search for a permanent Clerk, who would come in knowing that they might be demoted. However, he said it was probably better to discuss it now than after a new Clerk had been in office for several years.
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker asked City Manager Cynthia Curry for her opinion, and Curry replied, “Adaptability is kind of where I fit.” She said she hadn’t expected the discussion, but she thought she had the capacity in her office to pick up the responsibilities. “But I’m not asking for this, so I’ll just make that clear.” She said other cities have the Clerk’s office under the realm of the Manager’s office.
Ward said the commission has the option of hiring an Interim Clerk and then deciding whether to do a national search or move the Clerk position under the City Manager: “And I wouldn’t want to stretch it out forever, but it would at least give us at least a General Policy meeting or two to work through this. I would not want us to try to solve something like this in one or two days.” Curry said she could do some research and bring it to next week’s General Policy Committee meeting, which was previously converted to a Budget Workshop.
Ward said the City Charter has four “shalls” and two “mays” for charter officers. The second “may” is the City Auditor; Ward said eliminating the City Auditor as a charter officer “would take a lot of convincing on my part at this particular point in history.”
Infrastructure Surtax logo
Chestnut showed a new logo that has been designed for Infrastructure Surtax projects. Curry said it was based on the Wild Spaces Public Places logo. Ward said, “I’ll tell you right now, I’m just gonna call it Strong Foundations.”
I think the only thing that comes close to the ineptness of the city commission is a monkey and a football…
They can’t find the hole either.
They are like children playing school.
Why do any of them get 90 days paid after quitting or firing? Any other employee of the city or GRU would not get that. Why is this allowed in any governmental job? The tax payers pay for this crap.
City employees can’t be let go without cause. They are protected by many of the same rights as union workers. Not so for charter officers. They can and have been fired without cause on numerous occasions. A severance package is there because of the perilous position most charters find themselves in – At any commission meeting, 4 votes can get you fired.
Nope.. Ed, Recall that one of the first things you did upon arrival was to make all of your former AGMs at will employees putting them into the same situation as the charters.
How much did we pay for the new logo?
The audacity of the Commission has spread all throughout the employees and staffing like Covid . They could not deal with covid and they can’t deal with finances. They have no purpose, they are like zombies collecting a check. Little DC and Portland are imploding in debt and are clueless on how to be thrifty like all the other Municipalities and Counties surrounding us. Fire them now.
Notice the new LOGO shows a roadway and fire truck. GPD you are chopped liver! Annexation maybe in the works.
There is no justification for the clerk to be a separate charter officer. A “nationwide search” for a replacement of the current clerk and commission and community interviews is a total waste of staff and commission time and funding for a purely ministerial role. This also results in additional time commitment on the part of each commissioner in their weekly one-on-ones with the charters streamlining the responsibilities and focusing the attention of commissioners. This function should be part of the City Manager’s staff.
Adrian Hayes-Santos, is that you? You have that nice young man doing your work, we see. An obvious ambush with the trusty City Manager in tow. Nice work and continued influence over the City Commission that you are no longer a part of. How could they listen you? Crazy town, indeed.
Imagine quitting your job (the job you were never qualified for to begin with) voluntarily and asking your employer for severance pay. The entitlement of these people….
A third provision added a “Covenant Not to Sue,” which stated that Nattiel-Williams would never sue the City.
Hmmm… methinks Nattiel-Williams might have thought she had a reason to sue. But why quit, then request all of this? Something fishy going on. Oh wait… ’tis the City of Gainesville, there’s always something fishy going on.