Vero Beach City Attorney Vitunac seeks six-figure severance package

VERO BEACH — Suspended and tenuously employed Vero Beach City Attorney Charles Vitunac is seeking a hefty settlement from the City of Vero Beach in exchange for his resignation.

Local trial attorney Buck Vocelle informed Mayor Jay Kramer today by letter that he is representing Vitunac and that, in his legal opinion, the process by which the City Council voted to fire Vitunac on Feb. 1 was “fatally flawed. The main points of the letter are that a formal resolution was not drafted in proper legal form for approval, the item was not placed on the Resolutions for Adoption portion of the agenda and only a voice vote, not a roll-call vote was taken for a matter of such gravity as the termination of a charter officer.

During the meeting, neither Vitunac nor his two Assistant City Attorneys advised the City Council members that they might not be following proper procedure in discussing or voting on a proposed preliminary resolution to terminate Vitunac.

“Even in his own termination, Mr. Vitunac did not properly advise the City Council of its legal responsibilities,” said Councilman Brian Heady Monday upon hearing rumors that Vitunac was intending to get an attorney and seek compensation.

Vocelle states in the letter that there is precedence for the city paying a severance package and that Vitunac would accept a “minimum severance package” as was negotiated with former City Managers David Mekarski and Rex Taylor. Vitunac was the City Attorney when both of those packages were settled upon.

Mekarsi was paid $170,000 in May 2005 upon his separation from the city. This included funds to compensate him for proceedings surrounding an ethics complaint.

Taylor’s separation agreement in Nov. 2003 provided for a lump-sum payment of eight months’ salary in a deal negotiated by attorney Chester Clem.

Should Vitunac be successful in obtaining a settlement, this would be on top of his pension payments of more than $6,000 from the city and county combined, plus tens of thousands of dollars in unused sick and vacation time. Vitunac is also being paid for the time that he is suspended and waiting for a final disposition of his termination.

The City Council is considering a special call meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday to address this issue. It is unclear how a redress of the procedure and approval of a formal resolution might affect Vitunac’s position in requesting a severance package.

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