Mayor on feuding Vero officials: ‘We have to do what’s best for the city’

VERO BEACH — Vero Beach Mayor Kevin Sawnick said Thursday there is little he can do to stop the public internecine battle currently being waged between City Councilman Brian Heady and City Manager Jim Gabbard.The two leaders have been exchanging memos which culminated in the city manager accusing the councilman of threatening him and the councilman saying he will investigate grounds for seeking termination of the city manager’s employment. The written disagreement started after Heady claimed at a County Commission meeting he attended last Tuesday he had not been given an original copy of the Orlando Utilities Contract as he had requested on numerous occasions of city staff. Gabbard appeared at the Commission meeting to refute Heady’s claim, saying that the Councilman had indeed been provided the original document. Heady wants the document as research on whether there were material changes to the version of the $2 billion OUC contract Councilmembers reviewed in 2008 and the document that was signed by then Mayor Tom White three weeks later.For his part Mayor Sawnick said he is prevented from putting the two parties in a room to work out their differences because of the state Sunshine law. Heady plans to put up for discussion conditions under which Gabbard might be terminated, which would be a matter upon which the council would vote.But, he said, officials need to find a way to work together.”We have to do what’s best for the city,” he said.Sawnick said he plans to forge ahead amid the controversy and distraction of the current infighting. “There are always going to be disagreements between me and the City Manager or between other council members and the City Manager,” Sawnick said. “But I’m going to show myself as an example, being professional and courteous to everyone.”Courteous would not be the way to describe the memos exchanged between Heady and Gabbard starting on Tuesday when Heady asked the city manager to detail any inaccurate statements Heady made at the County Commission meeting.The city manager responded the next day saying he had received the memo only hours before a City Council meeting.”I did not have time to respond to your request prior to the meeting. At this time, I have not prepared a document that describes your bizarre conduct at the County Commission meeting. However, you were at the meeting and witnessed my comments first hand,” Gabbard responded. “If you need a reminder of the untruthful statements you made, I suggest that you review the meeting,” he continued.Heady responded saying to Gabbard he thought the city manager was trying to “discredit me rather than correct me” in his comments to the County Commission.”I don’t expect your cooperation in supplying to me a written response, I demand it. I will not wait years. You can refuse if you wish, but I think your refusal is at your own peril,” Heady concluded, adding that Gabbard’s statements were damaging to the city manager’s credibility.That reply prompted the following response from Gabbard.”I received your memo dated February 17, 2010, a copy of this memo is attached. Your demand under threat of retribution is a violation of Section 2.06 of the Charter of the City of Vero Beach which prohibits Councilmembers from issuing orders to Charter officers,” Gabbard wrote. “Due to the fact that you have additionally threatened me with termination at the next City Council meeting, I will make comments at that time.”It is unclear what the penalty would be should Heady be found in violation of the city charter, or even who would make that determination. Florida Statutes dictate several scenarios — some legal and some practical — which would give the Governor the authority to remove a municipal elected official. Those include but are not limited to a felony crime, breach of duty or continued inability to fulfill the duties of the office.The Vero Beach City Council meets again at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 2 in council chambers at City Hall.Debbie Carson and Lisa Zahner contributed to this article.

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