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Sparks fly as police chief employment agreement heads back to drawing board

HIGH SPRINGS – A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the City of High Springs and Police Chief Steve Holley was sent back to the drawing board at the Thursday, April 26, commission meeting after sparking a debate between commissioners.

“I’d like to express my reservations about the process of granting an MOU, which guarantees future employment to an individual employee. Let me emphasize, my concern is with the process, not the individual,” Commissioner Scott Jamison said. “This is a slippery slope we do not want to go down.”

Police Chief Holley sought a MOU to ensure that he would return to his previous job as police sergeant if he was fired from the police chief position. Jamison felt management was attempting to protect an employee, but he wondered why Holley was the focus of the MOU. Other employees, such as the city’s fire chief, do not have an MOU guaranteeing a job with the city should they be removed from a department head position.

Jamison expressed two issues focused around the MOU, one a legal issue and the other a fairness issue.  He stated that legally the commission, under Charter Section 206, had no authority to promise a position of a city employee, especially being that Holley is not a Charter officer. By approving the MOU, the City of High Springs would be inserting politics into the hiring process of city employees.

It was also a matter of fairness that caused Jamison to have concerns. He said the MOU would send a message to other employees that Holley was a favorite of the commission, adding that every employee should be treated fairly and equitably.

Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas supported the MOU as a way for the city to avoid a contract that might contain a hefty severance package, referencing $77,000 plus benefits paid to former Police Chief Jim Troiano.

The MOU “was done to be good to a man who had devoted his life to the city and done more than any previous Police Chief had done,” Barnas said referring to Holley.

In response to comments made by Jamison, Barnas said the MOU should be discarded and Holley should seek an iron-clad contract similar to contracts held by the former police chief and city manager.

Previous Police Chief Troiano had a contract with the city allowing for his termination with or without any reason or cause. In return, he received six months’ severance. His contract, or MOU, also didn’t allow for him take a patrol officer position should he be removed as chief. He was dismissed, as cited by a city press release, due to possible structural changes.

Commissioner Linda Gestrin said that City Clerk Jenny Parham has an MOU with the city commission that guaranteed her job as city clerk after her time as interim city manager was over. Jamison countered that Parham is different because she is a Charter member.

After a debate, the commission tabled the agenda item concerning a MOU with Holley until the next meeting. They directed City Attorney Raymond Ivey to return with options about how the city could proceed, including a potential employment contract.