The recent resignation of City Manager Rick Fernandez – amid various ethics charges and a federal investigation of city hall – has raised questions about who may be responsible for future legal fees incurred by Fernandez.
Language in Section 6 of the separation agreement between Fernandez and the City of Tallahassee states:
In the event there is any litigation initiated or pending against the City of Tallahassee or Fernandez relating to Fernandez’s performance of his duties as City Manager, the parties agree that the City of Tallahassee shall provide defense counsel and indemnify and hold Fernandez harmless from any damages, litigation expenses and costs which he may incur as a result of any legal action against him arising from his performance of duties as City Manager in accordance with City of Tallahassee Resolution No. 86-R-1454.
This language seems to indicate that Tallahassee taxpayers may be obligated to reimburse Fernandez for future legal expenses.
After the special city commission meeting last week, City Attorney Lew Shelley told TR that if the Florida Commission on Ethics fails to secure a finding against Fernandez in an administrative hearing, the city would be responsible for reasonable legal fees.
He cited the case of Mayor John Marks where probable cause was established, but an administrative hearing officer found no wrong doing. The city commission eventually voted to approve payment of “reasonable” legal fees incurred by Marks.
Given the federal investigation into city hall activities, what happens if Fernandez or any other city official is charged with criminal activity?
Shelley told TR that no expenses would be paid in a criminal case. However TR was forwarded a city policy that seems to indicate otherwise.
City policy 102 provides for:
the consideration of the payment/reimbursement of attorney’s fees and costs incurred by public officials, officers, and employees when they successfully defend or prevail in criminal cases arising out of and in connection with the scope of their City employment, while acting in their official capacity and serving a public purpose.
The policy states that City of Tallahassee:
may reimburse public officials, officers, and employees for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs that such persons have incurred when they successfully defend or prevail in criminal cases that arise out of and in connection with the scope of their City employment, while acting in their official capacity and serving a public purpose.
Based on this language, it appears that taxpayers may be on the hook for legal bills due to the federal investigation unless indictments result in the convictions and withstand any appeals.