AVON PARK - The City Council voted to pay for City Manager Julian Deleon's legal fees in defense of Councilman Garrett Anderson's ethics violation claims, but a pointed discussion ensued when Anderson asserted he should also be reimbursed for attorney's fees.
At Monday's council meeting, Deleon said the ethics complaint Anderson filed against the city manager has been investigated twice with the same results - it has been dismissed.
"The complaint was filed in my official capacity and executed in the duties as your city manager," he said. It has been a customary practice for the city to cover the legal fees for any public official who has been exonerated.
Deleon noted a provision in the proposed legal fees agreement that if he were to recuperate the attorney's fees, he would reimburse the city.
Councilman Parke Sutherland said he has talked to City Attorney Gerald Buhr many times about the issue.
Sutherland said according to Buhr, the city has a duty to pay Deleon's attorney's fees.
Buhr said that is correct because Deleon's expenses were due to his civic duties in an official capacity.
Anderson commented, "I would have to disagree. I don't think the taxpayers of Avon Park need to foot the bill for the repercussions of the city manager."
Deleon has brought on more lawsuits than the city has had in 20 years, Anderson said.
"If the ethics commission decides to give him attorney's fees then fine, but I don't believe that the City of Avon Park should have to pay them," he said. "And, if you are going to set that precedent then why would you not in turn also pay my attorney's fees?"
The allegations Deleon made were proven to be false, Anderson said. "I acquired attorney's fees from them."
Buhr responded, "the big difference here is the reason there were no findings is because you didn't cooperate with the investigation."
Anderson said, "That's not true."
Buhr replied, "That absolutely is true."
Sutherland said Anderson is not entitled to reimbursement because no one filed an ethics complaint against him.
Buhr said with Deleon there was a "tribunal," which came up with a conclusion, but there is no lawsuit or action brought against Anderson so he should not be reimbursed for attorneys fees.
Deleon said he cooperated when the city council authorized an investigation of Anderson's allegations.
Anderson refused to cooperate with the investigation, Deleon said.
Anderson responded that he was following the directions of his attorney.
Deputy Mayor Brenda Giles made a motion to pay Deleon's attorney's fees.
Councilman Terry Heston seconded the motion.
Council approved the motion by a 4-0 vote with Anderson abstaining.
In an email statement to the press, Deleon said, "I strongly believe that we will attain a judgment against Councilman Anderson, and at such time, I will return any recuperated funds back to the city.
"It is our position to seek attorney's fees whenever we prevail in court. This is a newly adopted position to send a clear message to those whom opt to litigate frivolous complaints against the city or any of our public officials."
Deleon said the fees for his attorney in Tallahassee currently total $4,578. That may go a bit higher as the attorney, through the state ethics commission, seeks reimbursement of the fees from Anderson.
The agreement with the city council does not include his Lake Wales attorney who is representing him locally concerning other matters related to Anderson's conduct towards him, Deleon said.