County to haggle with attorney
By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001
INVERNESS -- Instead of a few days, it will now be a few weeks before Citrus County brings a new county attorney on board.
Negotiations will begin Friday with Brooksville City Attorney Robert Battista, the second-ranked candidate for the county attorney slot vacated when Larry Haag retired last month. The County Commission decided Tuesday to go with Battista after reaching an impasse with top-ranked candidate David La Croix over vacation time in his contract.
La Croix had planned to start Monday.
County Commissioner Gary Bartell and Interim County Administrator Richard Wesch hope to present a proposed contract with Battista for commission approval March 13. Although he has several cases to complete, Battista told Wesch he could devote "95 percent" of his time to Citrus County starting March 14.
"I indicated to Mr. Battista where negotiations had fallen apart with the previous candidate, and Mr. Battista indicated to me that those issues would not be a bar to reaching an agreement with him," Wesch said.
La Croix had originally asked for a $100,000 salary and four weeks of vacation a year, plus a county vehicle or reimbursement for using his own car, Bartell said. During negotiations, La Croix dropped the car request and agreed to a $90,000 salary, with a 1.5 percent merit increase every three months, but he held fast to his vacation request.
After the County Commission balked at the request Tuesday, La Croix offered to take just three weeks of vacation if the county increased his salary to $92,000 plus quarterly increases.
In an interview Wednesday, La Croix noted that he had 31 days -- more than six weeks -- of personal leave, including vacation and sick leave, at his last position as city attorney for Cape Coral.
"I like to take three-day weekends or a half-day now and then," La Croix said. "No matter how much vacation I get, the job gets done."
Most county employees start with two weeks of vacation a year and do not earn a fourth week until a decade of service. Commissioners Roger Batchelor, Jim Fowler and Josh Wooten said they could not justify deviating from that norm for La Croix.
"That's a deal-breaker to me and it would be unacceptable," Fowler said.
But Commissioner Vicki Phillips and Bartell voted in favor of the contract, saying La Croix was worth retaining. Phillips said there was no guarantee of reaching better terms with Battista, who has requested a starting salary of $92,000.
"I would hate to see us be short-sighted and not have an attorney of (La Croix's) caliber on hand because of a week's vacation," Bartell said.
La Croix, who left Punta Gorda for Sugarmill Woods for family reasons last month, said he would operate a private law practice in Citrus County. If the county hires Battista, La Croix said, perhaps Brooksville will consider him for the city attorney services.
As for his dealings with the county, La Croix said he has no hard feelings.
"I just think the county wants Jacobson's service," La Croix said, referring to the upscale department store, "at Kmart prices."
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