tampabay.com

Lewis shows no patience for La Croix

By BARBARA BEHRENDT
Published May 2, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - David La Croix already announced plans to leave the city attorney job at the end of September but City Council member Richard Lewis believes he needs to go now.

Upset with the way La Croix handled the city's separation agreement with police Chief Ed Tincher, Lewis says in a memo to the rest of the council that he has lost confidence in the attorney.

"I want the rest of the council to know that I am in favor of immediate termination of attorney David La Croix's contract with the city of Brooksville, " he wrote. "I can no longer base any legal decision I make on any legal advice that he gives me as a sitting council member."

The memo, set for council discussion on Monday, notes that the city had agreed to pay a sum to Tincher and that Tincher agreed to retire at the end of the year, serving in an unpaid administrative leave in the meantime.

While the agreement cited Tincher's health as the reason he could not work, it came at a time that Tincher was up for disciplinary action for misconduct detailed in an independent investigation.

In mid April, La Croix admitted to the council that he failed to notice that Tincher's attorney had altered the agreement in a way the city didn't accept, namely that he retained the right to sue individual council members.

La Croix said that was not what he thought had been agreed to, and thus he believed that the agreement was void.

That meant that Tincher would not be paid the $28, 000 set out in the agreement. He could still be disciplined by the city.

Last week, Tincher's attorney sued the city claiming Brooksville breached the agreed-upon deal and sought an injunction to keep the city from carrying out any discipline on Tincher.

Lewis noted that the city attorney's advice to withhold paying the funds to the chief "violates the contract."

He goes on to criticize La Croix's previous actions, questioning why the city chose to revoke the agreement after a two-day period to do so had expired and questioned why the city's labor attorney wasn't consulted.

La Croix has since issued his own memo in response to Lewis' criticisms. He defended his action to void the agreement saying that the lawsuit filed by Ronald Freeman, Tincher's attorney, was "frivolous."

He tells the council that the change that Freeman put into the document would have allowed Tincher to file lawsuits against individual council members while giving up any legal claim on the city.

Individual lawsuits would not be covered by the city's insurance. The lawsuit against the city will be at least partially covered.

The reason the agreement was voided past the time period given for voiding it was because La Croix stated the city "didn't discover the devious and unethical changes to the contract" until then.

He explained that he didn't sign the agreement because he didn't understand it. Rather, he said he missed the critical unexpected change because he looked carefully only at the portions where changes had been agreed upon by both parties.

He didn't go through it word for word "because I trusted an attorney I didn't really know well enough to trust, thinking that, if he had made any other changes, he would have pointed them out, as ethical attorneys would."

La Croix also points out that the city's labor attorneys prepared the first draft of the agreement, so they were involved in the process.

In response to Lewis asking for his immediate termination, La Croix said that he submitted his resignation effective at the end of September to give the city a chance to resolve the personnel matters involving Tincher and the human resources director Ron Baker as well as give the city time to get a new attorney and a new city manager.

"I am still willing to do that, " La Croix wrote. "However, I also told you that if any three council members wanted to end my contract sooner, that would be fine with me."

He has provided the council members with a contract revision in case the council decides on that course on Monday.

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