ANNA MARIA – City officials and former Code and Parking Enforcement Officer and administrative assistant Angela Albrecht hold differing views on the events that preceded her recent firing.
Albrecht was fired on Jan. 24 after meeting with Vice Mayor Brian Seymour, City Clerk LeAnne Addy and Deputy Clerk Debbie Haynes. Mayor Dan Murphy was on a cruise when the firing took place and was not consulted on the decision. Seymour, as the City Commission chair, was serving as the acting mayor and based on input received from Addy, Haynes and labor attorney Brian Koji, decided to terminate Albrecht.
According to Addy’s notes from the Jan. 24 meeting, Seymour wanted to address an email Albrecht sent Addy that day. He also wanted to address Albrecht’s allegation that the three of them were overheard discussing a need to talk to City Attorney Becky Vose about firing Albrecht.
According to the meeting notes, Seymour told Albrecht that Vose was not consulted because she’s not the city’s labor attorney. Albrecht told Seymour she would not resign, and he would have to fire her.
“Brian stated to Angela that we have tried working with her for over six months. Due to the tone of her emails, her unprofessionalism and the argumentative nature he will be letting her go today,” according to the meeting notes.
The printout of those notes was later signed by Seymour, Addy and Haynes.
On Feb. 7, Mayor Dan Murphy discussed the firing. He referenced the employee handbook when asked if he felt the firing was justified.
“Continued employment with the city is at the will and pleasure of the city of Anna Maria and as such employment may be terminated or disciplinary action taken without cause. Employees are hired and fired as ‘at-will’ employees and as such the city maintains the right to end your job with or without cause,” he said.
Albrecht on firing
When contacted by The Sun on Feb. 7, Albrecht was asked if she felt she was wrongly terminated.
“Yes,” she said, noting that she doesn’t feel the reasons for her firing were fully explained.
“They didn’t go into any specifics,” she said.
When asked if she plans to file a lawsuit against the city, Albrecht referenced a comment Murphy made to the press about being happy to tell the truth if this matter winds up in court. He also referred to her as a disgruntled employee.
“Right now, I don’t. After he made that comment I am going to look into it,” Albrecht said of a possible lawsuit. “I’m not a disgruntled employee.”
Albrecht alleges parking tickets were issued by non-certified parking enforcement officers.
“Some of the officers did not complete the certification course. Some officers were allowed to issue parking tickets without that certification,” she said.
Pam Gibbs was the Code and Building Department Manager until she retired in early 2018. Haynes is now the Code Enforcement Manager in charge of parking enforcement.
Albrecht said she felt code enforcement officers were no longer allowed to enforce pool fence and other safety issues after Murphy’s mid-2018 directive that parking, signs and trash issues be the primary enforcement concerns.
“If a fence isn’t closed there’s no way of knowing if there’s a pool behind there. I feel I should have been able to do my full job, like I did before,” Albrecht said.
Albrecht said her work environment became “toxic” after Gibbs retired and those supervisory responsibilities were transferred to recently-hired Building Official David Greenbaum.
“Nice guy, but he just didn’t know the job. I think he was in over his head,” Albrecht said.
Greenbaum was replaced by current Building Official Luke Curtis last summer.
On Feb. 5, Albrecht emailed city commissioners regarding the joint meeting of the Charter Review Committee and the City Commission scheduled for the following day. That meeting was to include discussion on whether Anna Maria needs a city manager. Albrecht’s email alleged Addy desired that position.
Addy applied for the city of Rockledge, Florida’s city manager’s position in June 2016 and was hired as Anna Maria’s clerk in August 2016.
Albrecht’s email referenced her Jan. 24 meeting with Seymour and said, “The background of City Clerk LeAnne Addy needs to be investigated. Public records I have received from the state of Wisconsin shows a past of bankruptcy, foreclosures and other issues.”
“There’s no shame in filing bankruptcy. It was fully disclosed to me before I hired her, I took it into account and I have no regrets,” Murphy said of hiring Addy, a former City Clerk in Wisconsin, who acknowledged the bankruptcy and foreclosure resulting from her husband’s job loss.
On Dec. 3, the city received notification from the Spielberger Law Group that Albrecht was alleging the city violated federal and state employment laws and was in the process of filing discrimination charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
That letter was preceded by a July 16 letter from the same law firm.
“Our investigation indicates the city’s treatment of Ms. Albrecht violates state law. City has subjected Ms. Albrecht to disparate treatment in retaliation to a complaint she had previously filed. Specifically, Ms. Albrecht contacted Mayor Dan Murphy to report unlawful and unethical practices, including a building official who allows those without work permits to work on certain projects,” the July letter said.
The July letter alleged the city harassed Albrecht rather than responding to her complaint and noted that Albrecht felt she was being positioned for termination.
“Our investigation suggests that city retaliated against Ms. Albrecht in violation of Florida’s Private Whistleblower Act,” the letter said.
“It is my understanding those are closed,” Albrecht said of the issues raised in those letters.
Albrecht received a written reprimand from Haynes on Jan. 16 regarding her conduct on Jan. 11.
Haynes serves as the Code Enforcement Manager and oversees parking enforcement.
Her reprimand stated Albrecht willfully and intentionally ignored a known safety issue and failed to report it to her. The issue stemmed partially from Albrecht’s dissatisfaction with Murphy’s 2018 directive that code enforcement officers concentrate primarily on parking, sign and trash issues.
“That directive did prioritize parking, debris and signage and cannot be interpreted by any competent code enforcement officer as requiring you to ignore safety. Your dissatisfaction with your job assignments is contributing to your misconduct and negative attitude. That type of conduct and attitude must cease immediately,” the reprimand said.
“The city has expanded considerable energy working to accommodate you. Please be advised that any continued misconduct or failure to meet the expectations of the city will result in more serious discipline, up to and including the termination of your employment,” the reprimand concluded.
In response to Haynes, Albrecht wrote, “You chose not to follow up on any of the open case items sent to you, including the pool safety fence at 752 North Shore.”
Parking and permits
Murphy addressed Albrecht’s assertion that parking tickets were written by uncertified parking officers.
The city took over parking enforcement in 2015. Before that, parking was enforced by the Anna Maria branch of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
“My directions, since the very beginning of parking enforcement in 2015, were that every code enforcement officer must be certified. But in 2017, for two months, tickets were issued by an uncertified officer. I was not cognizant of that until yesterday and I’m still investigating,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he reviewed 15-20 tickets written by the uncertified officer and he feels the photos that accompany the citations support their validity.
Murphy said he asked Vose if state certification is required for the city’s parking enforcement officers.
“The state has requirements for certification, but Florida Home Rule seems to supersede that requirement. If a city wants to have a different certification program they can do so,” Murphy said.
Murphy addressed Albrecht’s claim that Addy ordered the building department to close fence permits in early 2018 without conducting final inspections.
“I can’t imagine how the city clerk would be involved in closing a permit when permits are the purview of the city planner and the building official,” Murphy said.