UPDATE: City Hall has released City Attorney’s letter of intent to resign effective Friday.
VERO BEACH — Though the City of Vero Beach is not saying anything officially, three Vero Beach City Council members say they were told that City Attorney Charles Vitunac has resigned and Wednesday filled out paperwork to activate his city pension.
“The way they were talking was that Charlie had already come in and signed the paperwork,” said Councilman Brian Heady.
Heady said he went to City Hall Wednesday afternoon and started “getting vibes” from the staff that there was a development in the Vitunac situation.
Heady said he headed upstairs to ask Acting City Attorney Wayne Coment what was going on.
Heady had more than a week ago issued a warning to Coment and to City Clerk Tammy Vock that Vitunac, who was out on paid suspension pending the disposition of his termination, was not to be allowed access to work papers or computer records in the building and should not be in the City Hall considering the pending proceedings.
By Wednesday night, Heady had still not come to grips with the news.
“My position is that you can’t resign after you’ve already been fired,” Heady said.
Heady said he was told by Coment that the city can’t force someone to stay employed.
“I don’t accept his resignation,” Heady said. “I’m demanding the City Council follow through and have the public hearing and act on the final resolution. If we don’t act on the final resolution, there is nothing stopping him from withdrawing his resignation and there’s zero we can do about it.”
Heady said he received a one-paragraph letter in his mailbox just after 5 p.m. explaining what had happened. The one paragraph letter sent by Vocelle saying that Vitunac has notified the personnel department of his retirement, effective Friday, March 11.
Vice Mayor Pilar Turner told at least one constituent at the Indian River Taxpayers Association luncheon Wednesday that she’d been notified of the resignation. On Wednesday evening, she said she found out that morning from city staff and then got more details later in the day.
“Monte (Falls) called me in this morning; I spoke to him several times today,” Turner said. “He said that he was talking to all the council people about Mr. Vitunac’s retirement.”
Turner said she was not surprised, that she felt like staff was “going through the motions” to prepare for the public hearing because none of them had ever been through one and they needed to figure out a format, but that she fully expected to get notice of the retirement or resignation prior to next Tuesday.
“There’s nothing in the charter that prevents it – when they’ve suspended employees they’ve allowed them to resign prior to completing their investigations,” she said, referring to prior councils.
Councilwoman Tracy Carroll also shared the news Wednesday with a constituent who was interested in the case and adamant that no further taxpayer dollars be spent on Vitunac in the form of a severance package. Wednesday evening, she confirmed that city staff had told her Vitunac’s retirement had been accepted.
“They told me that he filed paperwork and signed it,” Carroll said. “I don’t know if it was yesterday or this morning – and that they had Helen Scott look at the code and that he’s well within his rights to retire before the public hearing. So he’s going to get all his sick and vacation time.”
Scott is an outside attorney the city council hired to review the situation.
Upon his retirement, Vitunac will receive more than $92,000 in banked sick and vacation time. He will also collect a $75,000 per year pension.
After a unanimous vote to approve a preliminary resolution to terminate Vitunac, he requested a public hearing hearing on the dismissal, which is his right under the Vero Beach city charter.
Vitunac’s attorney, Louis B. “Buck” Vocelle also sent a demand letter to the city asking for a hefty severance package of $88,000 in exchange for his quiet resignation.
The City Council members expressed in public that they were not interested in paying the settlement, which amounts to $5 for every man, woman and child living in the City of Vero Beach.