Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Columbia County

19.5 yr Cnty Veteran – Cnty Agree on Settlement Terms: Art Butler, Now a "Man w/out a County"

Art Butler in 2011 at a budget work shop.*

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Sometime yesterday morning, 19.5 yr County Veteran, Art Butler, put his "John Hancock" on a proposed agreement settling his termination with the County. Without one word of discussion, last night, the County 5 did the same. Mr. Butler is/was the County's longtime Director of Facilities Maintenance, a job in which he was responsible for maintaining the County's buildings. He also built them and modified them. Mr. Butler had a sterling reputation throughout Florida.

Columbia County's good ole' boys go after its perceived enemies with a vengeance – think Watergate.

Beginning in 2008 and the reign of terror, his reputation and integrity came under attack by various factions within Florida's infamous good ole' boy county.

Two months ago, things came to a head in the County Commission conference room. On July 24, Acting County Manager, Ben Scott; Assistant County Managers Kevin Kirby and the newly hired Scott Ward; IT Director, Todd Manning (by cell phone); and Purchasing Director Ray Hill and Mr. Butler conferred. Things got out of hand; a scuffle ensued. Art Butler, 19.5 yr Veteran Dir. of Facilities Maintenance, Terminated: A "Set Up?

Ben Scott, Acting County Manager, and the two assistant county managers, Mr. Ward and Mr. Kirby issued a joint statement on July 27.

On August 5, J. Evan Gibbs, III, of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, did an investigation for the County. It is widely known that he interviewed County Manager Dale Williams. There is no record of that interview in Mr. Gibbs' report.

Over time, there was not one conversation that your reporter had with Mr. Butler in which he didn't mention that he felt county factions were after him and that his integrity was either under attack or at risk.

On September 11, 2015, your reporter spoke with County Manager Ben Scott:

Mr. Scott: I don't think there is a chance that there is going to be any settlement between now and then. [the scheduled appeal date, September 18]. I don't know what there is to settle. We offered him, if he preferred, to resign and we would treat it like a normal resignation.

Observer: He is asking for his job back; back pay; attorney's fees?

Mr. Scott:  I'm not willing to do that. I'm not willing to bring back an employee who attacked another employee.

Observer:  You've got your position; he's got his position -- I guess it's up to the County commission?

Mr. Scott: Uh huh. The way I see it -- they will present the reason why I shouldn't have fired him and I'll present my reason that the policy he broke -- the County policy calls for termination.

Around noon yesterday, September 17, Art Butler signed a settlement agreement.

Last Night:
County Attorney Joel Foreman Presented the Agreement

      Joel Foreman

He asked the Commissioners to approve the settlement agreement and a mutual general release of claims. "The agreement that you have is the product of mutual negotiation. It is my recommendation that the board accept the agreement as presented as a fair and reasonable resolution of this dispute."

Commissioner Williams asked Mr. Foreman to read, out loud, the entire 5 page agreement. The highlights (edited) follow:



Art Butler, Jr. has been employed by Columbia County since August 15, 1995.

On July 24, 2015, County Manager Ben Scott contends that Mr. Butler was involved in a confrontation (the "Incident') with another employee [Purchasing Director, Ray Hill] which gave rise to disciplinary action [you're fired] by County Manager Scott.

On August 13, 2015, following an investigation of the Incident by the County's outside counsel, Evan Gibbs, III, County Manager Scott took formal action on August 13, 2015, terminating Mr. Butler.

After his August 13 Termination, Mr. Butler contended that on the date of the Incident he was experiencing side effects from prescribed medication he was taking to deal with medical issues, which contributed to the Incident, giving rise to the Termination.

Mr. Butler disagreed with the County Manager's decision to terminate him.  He hired an attorney. He availed himself of his right to an appeal before the Board of County Commissioners. The appeal was scheduled to go forward if this Agreement was not entered into.

Mr. Butler and the County wish to fix terms of settlement of this employment dispute to avoid costs, eliminate uncertainty, limit potential liabilities, and otherwise resolve disputes between them.

Mr. Butler Gets His Job Back: sort of

Mr. Butler shall be reinstated as a full-time County employee effective August 13, 2015, with full-time employee benefits. However, along with this reinstatement, Mr. Butler gives notice of his resignation with an effective date of July 14, 2016. Mr. Butler's resignation shall be irrevocable.

Effective August 13, 2015, Mr. Butler shall be placed on medical leave from his employment. Leave shall continue until the effective date of his resignation on July 14, 2016.

Medical Leave Terms and Conditions

• Mr. Butler shall be paid by the County, through payroll, as any other employee exercising accumulated leave time.

• Mr. Butler's health insurance will continue, subject to the same employee contributions as made prior to August 13, 2015.

Communication only by email. Mr. Butler banned from County Facilities

• Mr. Butler shall provide, as additional consideration to the County, on-demand consulting, but only as requested in writing by the County Manager or an Assistant County Manager. All requests, and Mr. Butler's responses to those requests, shall be made via email only, and shall be considered public record. Because Mr. Butler will be on medical leave, he should not come to any County facility in his capacity as an on-demand consultant. Nothing about this Agreement shall be construed as limiting Mr. Butler's right to enter County-owned or operated facilities as a member of the general public.

• Mr. Butler shall not direct any employees or agents of the County or have spending authority. The parties agree that Mr. Butler's priority throughout medical leave must be to achieve a state of wellness.

• Mr. Butler will continue to accrue accumulated benefits, including Florida Retirement System participation, as those earned by full-time employees of the County in accordance with County policy; and

• Mr. Butler shall not participate in any County project or matter unless and until he is specifically asked to do so.

AGREEMENT NOT SEVERANCE PAY: right from the settlement

It is the intent of the parties to settle their disputes by affording the Employee the opportunity to resign after taking medical leave in order to provide the Employer continuing access to the Employee's knowledge of his position, enable the Employee to take full advantage of his already accumulated and accumulating medical leave time, and settle a potential employment dispute based on allegations which have been or could be made by the Employee against the Employer. To the extent the Employee may be determined to be compensated through exercise of his medical leave, his compensation hereunder is not "severance pay" as defined in Florida Statutes section 215.425(4)(d).

Mr. Foreman Concluded

Mr. Foreman concluded, reading that each party was going to pay its own legal fees and explained the signature page.

The County 5 voted to accept the agreement without any comment.


Art Butler explained throughout all his trials with Columbia County that his integrity was what he most valued.

Technically, he got his job back – or did he? And his "integrity?"

Art Butler, a man without a County. 

* Art Butler: This is our only photo of Mr. Butler in 9 years. Mr. Butler worked for the County in the background.

Comments (to add a comment go here)

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.


Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.