By DOTTY NIST
“We think the county would be better served by Mr. Kisela continuing to serve as County (Administrator) and the Commissioners restricting themselves to a much more limited role in operations,” Walton County Taxpayers Association President Don Riley commented on May 24.
Riley’s statement came via email in the wake of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) voting 3-2 on May 22 to approve an agreement described as being negotiated with Kisela, providing for him to step down effective June 22.
The agreement was presented by District 2 Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen, who briefly explained that it had been negotiated in a meeting between himself, Kisela, County Attorney Toni Craig, and the county human resources director. Pridgen presented a written motion giving the terms of the agreement, which included payment to Kisela of “all accrued and unpaid salary and benefits, including vacation time;” severance pay equal to six months’ salary; and that “(s)uch payments shall be full and complete payment and satisfaction of any claims that Mr. Kisela may have against the county.”
The motion was seconded and voted on without discussion by the commissioners and with no opportunity being provided prior to the vote for public comment.
The action was immediately criticized by WCTA Executive Director Bob Hudson and other citizens, with Hudson questioning why severance pay was being provided if Kisela had voluntarily resigned.
“Where was the sunshine?” Mary Nielson asked, alleging that the three commissioners voting for the agreement had “already made up their minds.”
Kisela’s employment agreement, approved at the time he came on board as administrator approximately a year ago, provides for only compensation for accrued employment and vacation time to be furnished by the county in the event that the administrator voluntarily resigns.
However, the county has taken the position that Kisela’s departure instead represents a mutual termination of his employment agreement.
The terms in the departure agreement mirror the compensation agreed on in the employment agreement in the event that Kisela were terminated by the county “without cause.”
“We think the process outlined by Mr. Pridgen (Tuesday) morning strongly suggests dealings out of the sunshine,” Don Riley stated on May 24, “and we believe the (attorney general’s) office should investigate the process and the legality of the agreement.”
“We believe that at the very least this reeks of an attempt to circumvent the intent of the law, and we think that even if this action were legal, it is inimical to the interests of the taxpayers of this county. From what I have seen, Mr. Kisela has been doing a better job than those working to terminate him, and we do not need to be buying off a darn good public servant,” Riley concluded.
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners will hold a special meeting on May 31, beginning at 8:30 a.m. to discuss the employment agreement of the County Administrator. See a related article in this week’s Herald Breeze: “Commissioners to discuss Kisela’s employment agreement.”
The meeting will be held at the Walton County Courthouse located at 571 U.S. 90, DeFuniak Springs, Fla. in the Commission Boardroom.