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MOSQUITO BOARD WINS LAWSUIT BUT TENSION REMAINS HIGH

Oct 29th, 2008 | 0

By LEAH STRATMANN

One day after the monthly meeting of the South Walton County Mosquito Control District (SWCMCD), attorney Lori Bytell received word the lawsuit filed by former executive director Gary D’Andrea had been settled in favor of the district. D’Andrea had sued the district for wrongful termination, even though his contract had expired when he was released from the position.
The case has been lingering for some time and earlier this month, after oral arguments from both sides, it was sent to a judge for summary judgment on Oct. 15. Bytell said, “For a summary judgment, the judge has to make sure there are no issues of fact and a summary judgment made on the order of law.” In this case, the judge sided with SWCMCD.
The ongoing lawsuit has also been a bone of contention with board member Jim Crawford, who has been reluctant to execute a contract for the current director Stephen Sickerman. Lobbying in favor of a contract in order to ensure continuation of service, board member John Magee wanted to go on record as being opposed to Crawford’s position and asked for his position statement to be read into the record for the August meeting minutes.
The statement read in part, “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 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.”
Magee’s statement in August has resulted in Crawford’s continuing refusal to approve the August minutes, although upon direct questioning, Crawford declined to state his objections, but asked the approval of them be tabled for another month. Crawford has also consulted with the board’s attorney for assistance in drafting a response letter to Magee’s comments.
When the bill for Bytell’s services was presented for payment, Magee said he didn’t feel as if the district should pay for services to Crawford as an individual. Thus he asked for $148.75 to be deducted from the bill and made a motion to pay $560 of the bill. “Who is writing this letter, our attorney or Mr. Crawford?” Magee asked.
Crawford disagreed with Magee’s suggestion that Bytell’s services were personal rather than those of the district and said again he is unhappy with the legal service the district is receiving.
“It seems when I ask for something you do the opposite.
I feel you have gotten things out of order. You discussed with me that you felt you might not get paid and if you didn’t get paid, you would not work with us any longer. I will pay you personally so you won’t come up short. I asked you to do something that I thought the district would handle,” Crawford said.
Bytell countered saying, “When you gave me the direction to write the letter, I did think it was work for the district. If you are not happy with the work I provided, you don’t have to pay me. I’m not going out trying to solicit additional work. If the services were not adequate, I will accept what the board is willing to pay me,” she said.
“If I’m going to be paying this out of my pocket, I feel I should have gotten the service I am paying for. I asked you to provide it to me before the meeting and I told you I didn’t want any surprises. I didn’t want the letter to go out before the meeting,” Crawford said.
“The last few meetings I have been here, you have made it very clear you are unhappy with me and the press has been happy to print this. When I have a problem with you I contact you privately. I’ve worked a long time in this community to protect and build a reputation. I have not missed one filing or one court date,” Bytell said.  “It is unfair for it to be suggested that I am incompetent because you are unhappy with things I’m not doing that have nothing to do with my professional responsibilities to this board. I do not want to continue to be subjected to open-ended allegations that are carried out in the press. Your objections have nothing to do with me doing my job. The times you have called my office and found me to be unavailable are just two times I was unavailable. I take issue at your dissatisfaction and public comments of the same. Your comments are not fair or accurate and I don’t appreciate them,” Bytell insisted.
Magee interjected saying, “I would like to go on record saying I have never personally witnessed any shortcomings from our legal representative. In this world of electronic communication if you do not to have a computer or a fax machine, the only thing left is regular mail. I think this discrepancy you may have [with Bytell] is more personal, that is my opinion. Your sister went before the fire board [South Walton Fire District] to try and have Ms. Bytell fired, I think your family has a problem. You have justified nothing except a phone call that was missed,” he stated.
“You don’t think a missed phone call that is not returned in two months is a problem? Crawford asked.
In the end, the issue remained unresolved. Bytell said she would not seek nor take any money offered by Crawford and the discussion ceased.
In other unfinished business, Sickerman noted about 15 people have volunteered to participate in the study using garlic juice as a mosquito barrier.
Crawford inquired where the district was in advertising for new legal representation. Sickerman said he had been in touch with other agencies for guidance on how the advertisement should read. Bytell offered to provide him with the format for a Request for Proposals (RFP).
In the final piece of business for the meeting, Magee asked the director to begin drafting a five-year plan, which would be annually reviewed by the district.
There being no other business, the meeting was adjourned.

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