SEBRING - Eight city workers are claiming they are in a "hostile work environment" due to City Manager Julian Deleon, according to a LaBelle attorney, who has called for an investigation into the matter by the city council.
Attorney Richard Sullivan said in a phone interview Friday that the employees, whom he's representing, are claiming this has made it "difficult, if not impossible, for them to do their jobs."
Sullivan said the workers have accused Deleon of name calling and mimicking, and that he's threatening and investigating them and snooping on them.
"They are fearful of being fired, constantly," he said. "If anyone raises any questions about how things are done they are targeted there."
At Thursday's special council meeting on the city audit, Sullivan asked the city council to conduct an investigation into the workers' claims.
The city council decided to seek advice from City Attorney Gerald Buhr to determine if they have the power to authorize such an investigation.
Council will then make a decision during a council meeting about whether to proceed with an investigation.
Sullivan said he won't be taking any further action until the council makes its decision.
"I think it is in the city's best interest to investigate and see if there is a problem or not," he said. "I don't think anybody is afraid of the facts coming out."
The workers just want to be in an environment where they can work, he said.
Deleon said Friday that running city operations is not a "popularity contest."
He is not flexible on matters of integrity and has had to make many difficult decisions to stabilize the city's finances, Deleon said. He noted the steep property tax reduction, the city close to being debt free and the impending annexation of a very large community (Crystal Lake Club).
In an email, Deleon stated that city workers have been upset with him in the past.
"At one point, all three labor unions voted no confidence on the city manager," he said. "I have made some drastic job cuts to keep the organization moving forward. My specific actions have led to either layoffs, resignations or to the termination of more than 50 positions."
Deleon said that during his tenure, the city has dealt with some "very questionable employee practices and blatant abuse," such as payroll time sheets containing irregularities where "unworked" paid time was being claimed as worked time, and city resources such as city employees, computers and vehicles were being used for private gain to run private business ventures.
"For years one employee in particular had been running several businesses using the city's computer servers and the city's resources, all on paid taxpayer time," he said.
Deleon said some city workers were using new city-purchased parts, bolts and equipment to build a motorcycle trailer. City-owned lawn mowing equipment and gas was used on the weekends outside Avon Park for non-city business, he added.
There have also been issues with an employee making racial slurs in public and racially charged written material being distributed during work hours to other employees in the work force, he said.
"Some of this material included jokes about President Obama, Hispanics and illegal aliens," Deleon said, adding the material was distributed when he first arrived in the city. "It talked about 'angry Americans' taking back what belonged to them, according to the hate propaganda, which was openly distributed to employees.
The organizational culture was one of abuse of public funds by many individuals," he said.
"While some want to be critical of my job performance, I am also prepared to bring all of these other matters and issues of misuse of taxpayer funds, misuse of equipment, stolen equipment and racial slurs forward for full public disclosure to the Avon Park taxpayer, business community and council," Deleon said.
Councilman Terry Heston declined to comment on the workers' claims against Deleon, but he said, "I still feel like Julian is doing a great job and will continue to do a great job for the city of Avon Park."