Vero Beach Council to discuss removing City Attorney Vitunac

VERO BEACH – The Vero Beach City Council on Tuesday is expected to discuss removing City Attorney Charlie Vitunac as the city’s legal counsel.

Vice Mayor Pilar Turner requested the discussion be placed on the council’s agenda for the Feb. 1 meeting.

“It’s time,” Turner said Thursday evening.  

Though her supporting documents provided in the agenda do not raise specific concerns or reasons for the discussion, the material states the public need or issue to be addressed as being “provide adequate legal counsel to address the many issues facing the city.”

Turner said the decision to ask for Vitunac’s removal is “for the public good” and that, with all the complex legal issues facing the new City Council, not the least of which is negotiating a sale of the electric utility to Florida Power and Light, that having objective counsel is critical. She said she did not take the decision lightly and that she’d pondered it for more than two months before asking for the removal resolution to be placed on the agenda.

“It’s tough to fire someone,” she said.

She also notified Vitunac so he wouldn’t be surprised when the item appeared on the agenda.

“I didn’t want him to be blindsided,” Turner said.

Vitunac, as a Charter Officer of the city, serves at the pleasure of the Vero Beach City Council. He does not have what is referred to as “property rights,” meaning a right to receive severance pay or benefits beyond the term of employment.

If the council were to chose to remove Vitunac from his post, he would be entitled to have a public hearing. Whether the attorney would seek that hearing remains unknown.

Attempts to reach him were not immediately successful.

It is common for top government officials to have agreements in place providing what some call a “golden parachute” in the event of their dismissal. No such document exists for Vitunac.

In March 2010, Councilman Brian Heady attempted to raise the issue of terminating Vitunac, as well as then-City Manager Jim Gabbard. Nothing came of the discussion in the meantime and Gabbard retired voluntarily in October.

Since the new council has been seated, City Attorney Vitunac has stated publicly that none of the former council had read the $2 billion contract signed with the Orlando Utilities Commission – an issue that Heady has raised numerous times. Then-City Manager Gabbard had said before retirement that the council had indeed read the documents.

If Vitunac were to be removed from his post, the council could choose to name another attorney in the City Attorney’s Office as the lead counsel or elect to hire from outside.

Staff Writer Lisa Zahner contributed to this report.

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