Police chief sues city over voided deal

Published April 26, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - Longtime police Chief Ed Tincher is suing his bosses, accusing them of breaking a deal they had with him over his retirement.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in Pinellas County, Tincher alleges that the city breached an agreement that would have allowed him to retire at the end of the year. He also accuses city officials of committing fraud by enticing him into signing the agreement and giving up some of his rights in the process.

Tincher is seeking $70,000, for what he would have earned in city salary in the coming months and for costs he has incurred. He also asks for an injunction against any disciplinary action the city might take against him.

The agreement was signed by interim City Manager Steve Baumgartner, City Attorney David La Croix and Tincher this month.

Earlier this year, city leaders brought in an independent investigator to examine misconduct allegations. He concluded that Tincher was incompetent and inefficient, and found problems in his handling of evidence, his treatment of women and his intimidating manner.

The settlement would have allowed Tincher to stay on leave without pay until he retired at the end of 2007, which would mark his full 30 years of city service.

The settlement stated that Tincher's health prevented him from returning to work and that there had not been enough evidence to discipline him. It also went on to praise him for his service to the city.

Also as part of that agreement, Tincher was to have been paid $28,000, give up his right to bring a grievance and agree to not pursue legal action against the city.

That's where the trouble began.

Tincher, his attorney Ronald Freeman and La Croix agreed on several changes in the agreement, and the deal was rewritten. La Croix didn't notice that one of the changes Freeman added was that Tincher would give up his rights to sue the city but would retain the right to sue individual elected officials, employees and the city attorney.

Tincher has said repeatedly that he would sue individuals who have made false allegations against him.

La Croix admitted that he missed the change when he signed the final version of the agreement. But he also has argued that the city's charter requires that the City Council approve such a settlement, that the mayor must sign and seal it before it is enforceable.

On Friday, La Croix wrote the City Council a memo stating that the agreement was void and that the city was back where it was earlier this month, facing the possibility of formal discipline against Tincher.

Freeman insists that the interim manager and the city attorney have the authority to bind the city and that other contracts are not signed and sealed by the mayor.

In the complaint, he claims that La Croix stated during the settlement discussions that he was seeking only to prevent liability for the city.

"The manager and the city attorney made the representation at this meeting that they were not concerned with personal lawsuits that may be initiated against individuals and that they were only representing the city," the complaint states.

But La Croix has said that was not the content of the discussions with Tincher and his attorney.

Baumgartner said Wednesday that he had not yet been served with a copy of the complaint. A predisciplinary hearing date for Tincher had also not yet been set.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or 352 754-6117.