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Sunday, March 07, 2021
city commission new graphic
city commission new graphic

The city commission did not fire Gainesville City Manager Lee Feldman in a special meeting Tuesday night despite recommendations to do so from an external audit, or independent examination. 

The commission instead voted 4-3 to pass a motion recommending professional development for Feldman and internal audits, or inspection of an organization by its own members, focused on workplace culture and policy. This comes after a 10-month investigation conducted by Robert Clayton Roesch, a civil litigation attorney based in Orlando, who reviewed the allegations.

The 1,600-page investigation, which was not in the meeting agenda and commissioners were told not to disclose, did not find evidence of Feldman committing gender discrmination against a city employee, Diane Wilson, according to the Gainesville Sun. However, it did find Feldman retaliated against Wilson by allegedly overlooking her for promotion to finance director because of the gender discrmination complaint she filed. 

The external audit recommended termination. Feldman said he did not agree with the conclusions, according to the Gainesville Sun.

Feldman was fired from his position as city manager in Fort Lauderdale in 2018 after the newly elected commissioners decided to go in a “new direction.”

Commissioners David Arreola, Gail Johnson and Gigi Simmons were the dissenting votes. They voiced support for further disciplinary action, like firing Feldman, as the report suggested. 

Feldman nor the firm creating the report commented during the meeting, which was broadcasted via the commission site, Facebook Live and Zoom. Commissioners and some public commenters were at the meeting in person. 

Commissioner Reina Saco proposed the motion to work on a professional development plan for Feldman. It is unclear what professional development entails or what the plan will look like. Saco also proposed the commission work with charter officers to review and come up with a better process for complaints, as well as review policies on firings. The motion also asked for an audit plan to look at the work culture in the city’s government.

During the meeting, Simmons noted that the city is involved in a pending federal complaint and anything said in the meeting could be used against the city in court. It is unclear what the complaint is.

Johnson said she was disturbed by the report detailing Feldman’s alleged misconduct. 

“I am deeply concerned about what I see as retaliatory actions taken by one of our officers,” Arreola said.

However, other city commissioners and Mayor Lauren Poe expressed a lack of confidence in the report.

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Poe disagreed with the findings. He said the hiring committee for the city manager had a ranking process of which Wilson was not at the top of. He also noted reservations from the assistant city manager about the employee filing the complaint. 

Saco said the report had a lot of hearsay and Commissioner Harvey Ward questioned the length of time the investigation took. 

“We can’t fire our way out of a culture problem,” he said.

Simmons took issue with the professional development recommended for Feldman in the motion. She was confused why a manager with a long career in city government should need it. Arreola said city officials should be held to a higher standard. 

Of about 10 public commenters in the special meeting, sentiment seemed split with about half expressing concern about Feldman and urging commissioners to “do the right thing.”

Feldman was selected as the Gainesville City Manager by a 6-1 vote in 2019. At the time, Arreola was the only one to dissent and declined to comment at that point why. 

After receiving his master’s degree in governmental administration from The University of Pennsylvania, Feldman went on to serve as the City Manager for Palm Bay, North Miami and, most recently, before his appointment in Gainesville, Fort Lauderdale. 

During his confirmation hearing, Feldman was praised by members of the commission as the only candidate for the job who presented a written plan for how to move Gainesville forward. 

Alan Halaly contributed to this report. 

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