Mosquito board members continue to wrangle
By LEAH STRATMANN
For months, South Walton County Mosquito Control (SWMC) board members John Magee and Jim Crawford have been at odds over the issue of a contract for director Stephen Sickerman. Magee feels strongly the director deserves a contract outlining evaluations, raises, and other aspects of the position. He directed board attorney Lori Bytell to research the issue and call for a workshop to discuss a contract.
“If we do a contract, I want to be part of it,” Crawford insisted.
“As the attorney for the board, it does not matter to me whether or not a contract is signed or not. I’m very concerned however that a legal issue may impact our ability to work cohesively. I think we cannot avoid the subject and we need to resolve it without the emotional issues we had last month. We have unfinished business and we need to take care of it,” Bytell said.
Magee was even more direct, directing the following statement be written into the board meeting minutes. “It is my professional opinion that we are violating the employment agreement with Stephen Sickerman as director for the South Walton County Mosquito Control District. At the time of his employment, we outlined what was expected of him as director. We also assured him that we would provide an employment contract to him in a timely manner. This was in December 2007. Now it is August 2008 and we still do not have a contract, since commissioner Crawford wants to wait for the outcome of the Gary D’Andrea lawsuit.
“It is my professional opinion that this case could linger on, jeopardizing our work relationship with our director. It is also my opinion that if this contract is not consummated in a timely manner, that the conditions in which Mr. Sickerman was hired will become questionable in the event of any employment dispute.
“The purpose of a director’s contract is to ensure continuity for the commissioners since the footprint of the commissioners can change every two years. It has been the policy of the South Walton County Mosquito Control District to provide a work contract for all directors since its inception.
“I am entering this statement so that it will become a legal record in the minutes dated today, Aug. 19, 2008 in the event that future commissioners have to face any form of contract dispute due to the inability of this commission to follow through on its verbal promises.”
“I wanted to do this because it has nothing to do with Gary’s stuff,” Magee said. The reference is to the former director, Gary D’Andrea who is suing the district for wrongful termination. On Oct. 15, a judge will decide via summary judgment whether or not D’Andrea has a legal right to proceed with his lawsuit. At the time of his termination, his contract had expired.
“I want to table that now and not schedule any workshop until the judge makes his decision on Oct. 15,” Crawford said.
Stephen Sickerman said, “I would like an evaluation and feedback to make sure my performance is up to standards. I want to make sure we are on the same page. I would like to get a mid-term evaluation rather than waiting for the annual evaluation.”
Bytell suggested all interim evaluation comments be made in writing.
In other legal matters, the district presented an invoice to the Department of Corrections for reimbursement of salary, expenses, and fringe benefits paid to Charlie Burke, who was recently convicted of falsifying his home address in order to qualify for election to the position. The district asked for reimbursement of $8,214 for insurance, $449 for retirement benefits, $2,544 for salary reimbursement and $5,433 for miscellaneous expenses.
Attorney Bytell said Burke has contested part of the reimbursement request. “The judge is going to review it. The judge may decide we need to have a hearing to decide if the district is entitled to all they have asked for. Burke feels he should not have to pay for benefits and miscellaneous expenses. He understands the salary request, but contests the benefits part. The final decision is up to the judge,” she said.
In other business, Magee noted there is a nationwide epidemic of equine encephalitis, which is linked to the mortgage crises. People are abandoning homes with animals and homes with filled and unmaintained swimming pools. “If you have property in your neighborhood that could be causing a problem, the listing agent has to provide authority for the mosquito control district to act,” he said.
Director Sickerman reported that to date 62 percent of state funds and 63.5 percent of local funds have been spent. The fiscal year ends on Oct. 31.
The board will continue to meet on the third Tuesday of every month at 9:30 a.m. with the exception of Nov. 18. That meeting will be held on Nov. 20 instead.