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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Lake City City Manager Search:  No Background Check; No Credit Check; No Code of Ethics For City Manager Paul Dyal

Laughing young woman with headline: Lake City Mayor Stephen Witt has called LC the laughing stock of Florida
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels | Columbia County Observer graphic

LAKE CITY, FL – Controversial City Manager Paul Dyal and his contract, now three of them, is once again front and center on tonight’s City Council agenda. Newly installed Councilman Ricky Jernigan has negotiated the final version.

Background Check: Not for City Manager Paul Dyal, the Chief Financial Officer of Lake City.

On September 6, 2022, Councilman Todd Sampson motioned "a complete vetting" of City Manager Paul Dyal, including a comprehensive background and credit check. Mayor Witt, Councilman Hill, and Councilman Jefferson would have none of it, and the motion died for lack of a second.

Mr. Dyal's signature is required on all City checks.

Mayor Witt was Mr. Dyal's bankruptcy attorney. It is unknown what else lies in the background of City Manager Paul Dyal that he and other council members do not want exposed to the Sunshine.

Newly installed City Council members Chevella Young and Ricky Jernigan also doubled down on a "no" background check for City Manager Dyal.

Since at least 2000, all Lake City city managers have had extensive background checks.

Background checks include a dive into an applicant's employment history and state or local criminal history.

The LCPD would also do a comprehensive FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) background check.

Most communities consider it essential to ensure that the people it hires are trustworthy and honest.

With Mr. Dyal signing all City checks and having unfettered access to all City information, one might expect the City Council to require comprehensive background and credit checks just to be safe.

A credit check would give the City Council insight into how Mr. Dyal has previously managed credit and debt payments. Most employers think this information is important when an employee is handling money.

Credit information, which would appear on a credit check for Mr. Dyal, would be available credit, payment histories, bankruptcies, collection accounts for unpaid bills, and other indicators of financial mismanagement that could indicate financial distress and the potential for fraud.

As reported earlier, Mr. Dyal took off to Alaska on July 13 – July 19 for a job interview. Besides Mayor Witt, it is not clear if anyone in the City knew the whereabouts of Mr. Dyal during that time.

On July 12, 2022, Mr. Dyal sent the City Council a "reminder" notice that he would "be out of the office." No prior email stated that Mr. Dyal would be out of town during that time.

According to Councilmen Hill and Sampson, they didn't know the whereabouts of Mr. Dyal. However, according to Mr. Dyal, the Mayor knew, and it was the Mayor who authorized his being on the City clock.

Mr. Dyal took no personal days off for his trip to Alaska. He did write that he would be monitoring his emails and phone calls. For that trip, a job interview, the City's taxpayers paid Mr. Dyal $461.54 a workday to monitor his phone calls and check his emails.

Dyal’s Contract Negotiations Violated Florida’s Sunshine Law

Councilmen Hill and Jernigan agreed to be Council member liaisons in the Dyal contract negotiations. The meetings that Misters Hill and Jernigan attended to negotiate the Dyal contract needed to be publicly noticed meetings. Florida Atty. Gen. Opinions going back to the 70s and court cases going back to the 60s make this clear.

The Sunshine Law extends to discussions, deliberations, and formal action taken by a board or commission. In their capacity as liaisons, the Council members represented the rest of the Council.

The Supreme Court of Florida has stated that the statute must be construed "so as to frustrate all evasive devices. Accordingly, the law has been applied such that the presence of two or more members of a board or commission is not necessary." [citations omitted]

Dyal’s Salary and Benefits Package Is Up In The Air

In 2021 during the city manager search, the city manager's salary requirements were unclear. Since then, the City Council determined that the maximum City Manager salary for Lake City would be $160,000, depending on qualifications and experience.

Photo of Lloyd Austin III with a caption explaing that to some in Lake City, he would not be qualified to be City Manager

According to some in the City, Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin would not qualify to be the city manager.

During the previous Council discussions, it was understood that experience meant equivalent experience(s) as a city manager. Mr. Dyal does not have that experience.

Both Councilman Hill and Councilman Sampson stated that Mr. Dyal's maximum starting salary should be $140,000. Mr. Dyal determined he was worth $160,000 and a review for an increase after 180 days. In the shadows, Councilman Jernigan negotiated a $10,000 rollback to $150,000. Councilman Hill had previously rolled back Mr. Dyal's proposed $160,000 salary to $140,000.

Mr. Dyal has presented no Florida equivalents or comparisons of similarly situated city managers.

Lake City's last two city managers were ICMA members and qualified city managers. They agreed to contracts with 12 work weeks of severance pay and 12 weeks of benefits should the issue arise.

This severance package was not good enough for Mr. Dyal, who initially wanted 20 weeks of severance and 20 weeks of benefits. Councilman Hill's version of the contract left 20 weeks intact; Councilman Jernigan rolled it back to 16 weeks.

Payback for Sick Time and Accrued Leave

City Policy regarding the payout of sick leave and accrued time off is a maximum of 500 hours of sick time and 320 hours of leave time. This has been acceptable to the last three city managers and is the same for all City employees except one.

This policy is not good enough for Mr. Dyal, who wants to be paid for all accrued leave and sick time.

The personnel policy was breached in 2021 when the City Council approved the contract of City Clerk Audrey Sikes. That contract gave her 500 hours each of accumulated sick leave and annual leave, and other benefits which no other city employee received.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Dyal has requested that all deferred sick and accumulated leave be reimbursed upon his Departure from the City.

Councilman Jernigan's negotiated version of the Dyal contract changed Councilman Hill's maximum of 500 hours each to all accumulated paid time off of any variety.

Should Mr. Dyal’s contract be approved with the unlimited reimbursement of all accrued leave and sick time, and were he to decide to leave after six months, his payout for a voluntary termination would be approximately $145,000, plus additional pay for accrued time off, which Mr. Dyal is not known for taking.

In 2022 Mr. Dyal took no personal or sick days.

Should Mr. Dyal be terminated without cause his payout would be approximately $145,000, plus 20 weeks of pay at $53,000, plus benefits and additional accrued time that would put Mr. Dyal's payout at over $200,000.

No Code of Ethics for Mr. Dyal

City Manager Wendell Johnson and Joe Helfenberger subscribed to the International City Manager Association (ICMA) Code of Ethics, and with each of their employments, this was never an issue. With Paul Dyal, it is.

Mr. Dyal gave the excuse that he could not comply with the ICMA Code of Ethics because he isn’t a qualified member of the ICMA.

Mr. Dyal removed this requirement from his contract, and the Kennon-Hill negotiated version did not add it back.

The Code of Ethics could be easily modified to suit Mr. Dyal’s non-membership in the ICMA.

Mr. Dyal’s past antics, foul and abusive language, and public attacks on City Council members would have had him violating the ICMA Code.

Epilogue

Lake City, which has turned into a shooting gallery, is one of the most unsafe cities in Florida. According to Mayor Witt, it has become the laughingstock of Florida.

Tonight the City Council will decide on a City Manager contract that requires no application, no background check, no credit check, and no code of ethics of the applicant.

The City Council can turn the Dyal ship around this evening. No one expects that the Council will do that.

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