Vero Beach Council unanimous on second vote to fire Vitunac

VERO BEACH — The Vero Beach City Council Tuesday passed a do-over preliminary resolution to terminate City Attorney Charles Vitunac and declared its own Feb. 1 resolution void.

This action, which was done by a unanimous 5-0 vote with Mayor Jay Kramer and Councilman Craig Fletcher switching their previous votes to save Vitunac’s job, starts the clock again on the process of completing the termination.

The resolution passed without much discussion, and without a statement by Kramer or Fletcher as to why each man changed his vote.

Fletcher, in a previous council meeting, said he was disappointed that Vitunac had “abandoned his post” pending final disposition of the termination proceedings.

Vitunac cleaned out his office on Sunday, Feb. 6 and turned in his city key card and keys.

The city has hired local attorney Helen Scott to advise the City Council on this matter. It was on the advice of Scott that the council approved the new resolution and voided the old one. The retainer for Scott’s services was limited to $2,500 and her scope was limited to a review of proceedings and advice on the resolution to terminate.

Vitunac now has 10 days — while receiving his full salary of about $517 per day on paid suspension — to request a public hearing of the issue. If requested, a public hearing, according to the city charter, would be held no less than 20 days after the preliminary resolution, but no more than 30 days after the resolution.

It is expected that Vitunac will request a public hearing, as he already requested one under the now-void Feb. 1 resolution.

The resolution approved on Tuesday does not include a lists of reasons for firing Vitunac, as the City Attorney works at the pleasure of the City Council and does not need a reason, other than an expression that they no longer have confidence in the City Attorney as their legal counsel.

The three charter officers — City Attorney, City Manager and City Clerk — all work directly for the City Council on this basis.

Vitunac has no employment agreement that would give him a so-called “golden parachute.” However, he will collect a pension of about $75,000 per year, plus tens of thousands of dollars in banked sick and vacation time.

Still in limbo is a demand from Vitunac’s attorney, Louis B. “Buck” Vocelle, that the city pay Vitunac an $88,000 severance, representing eight months pay. A majority of the council members have stated publicly, inside and outside the Council Chambers, that they are not interested in effectively billing every resident of the City of Vero Beach $5 a piece to fund the severance.

Vocelle has made three main arguments as to why Vitunac should receive the demanded severance in exchange for his resignation.

First, Vocelle claimed that the Feb. 1 resolution to terminate was improperly noticed, not in legal form, placed on the wrong part of the agenda and not voted up on properly with a roll call vote.

Acting City Attorney Wayne Coment told the City Council on Feb. 10 that passage of a new resolution would “cure” Vitunac’s claims.

Also, Vocelle claimed there was precedent for the payment of severance because former City Managers Rex Taylor and David Mekarsky — who both resigned unwillingly instead of being fired — received severance packages. Mekarsky got $170,000 to buy him out of his contract and Taylor got eight months’ pay.

Lastly, Vocelle claimed that the city would be unable to find a new City Attorney if they didn’t honor what he saw as obligations to compensate Vitunac for his years of loyal service to the City of Vero Beach.

In regard to the voiding of the Feb. 1 resolution, Councilman Brian Heady only said that he wanted to make it clear that the council was not admitting that the first resolution was invalid, but, as Interim City Manager Monte Falls stated, passing a second resolution “in an abundance of caution.”

“I just want to say that this has been approved as to form and legal sufficiency, and signed off on,” Heady said, adding that the first resolution was questioned, but questioned only by Vitunac’s attorney, Vocelle.

The Vero Beach City Council next meets on Tuesday, March 1, which would be short of the 20-day span required for a public hearing, so a special call meeting would most likely be scheduled.

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