LGWCD Offers Saunier $80K Severance

The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to offer District Administrator Clete Saunier a separation package worth more than $80,000.

Saunier, who is leaving after 15 years on the job, sat in the audience with his attorney during the meeting. There was no indication whether he planned to accept the offer. UPDATE: LGWCD officials have told the Town-Crier that Saunier accepted the agreement on Thursday, Nov. 29.

Tuesday’s meeting had been recessed from Nov. 13, when the board ended its contract with Saunier after failing to reach an agreement with him on a temporary contract extension.

LGWCD Attorney Mary Viator said that Saunier’s contract, approved in 2003, included a severance obligation if the board chose to discontinue the contract.

Attorney Lara Donlon, a specialist in employment and personnel issues, said she had come up with what she considered a fair assessment of what the district owed Saunier, including an $80,026.01 payout and a Florida Retirement System contribution of $521.82. “That, in my opinion, is the most we can do under the agreement,” Donlon said.

Supervisor John Ryan made a motion to authorize the payment of $80,547.83 after the completion of a satisfactory contract compliance review, saying that he felt it was the responsibility of the board to interpret the contract, rather than continue negotiations, but the motion failed for lack of a second.

Supervisor Don Widing made a motion to make an immediate payment offer of $80,547.83, explaining that he thought that auditor Grau & Associates’ offer to conduct the review on an hourly basis, costing up to $10,000, was excessive.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Widing said. “I think we have adequate records here. They have been public records for a long time. If someone on the board wants to look at the records and do some type of audit, I’m fine with that.”
He also pointed out that the contract does not require any type of audit. “A deal is a deal,” Widing said. “We made the agreement, and it has been in place for many years.”

Supervisor Frank Schiola, however, said there were some questions in his mind about Saunier’s performance, including a check to the South Florida Water Management District for the district’s water discharge permit that had not been mailed.

After more discussion, Supervisor Robert Snowball said that he felt Saunier had performed his job within the terms of the contract. Chairman Dave DeMarois also said he supported paying Saunier immediately.

Widing amended his motion to include a requirement that Saunier sign a letter releasing the district from any further claims. That motion carried 4-1, with Schiola opposed.

Next, the supervisors discussed finding a new manager, with discussion focused on whether to seek an interim manager and to go ahead and hire a permanent replacement.

Viator said that at the previous meeting, the board decided that since Saunier was not going to be involved, steps should be taken to fill the position. She added that legal staff placed notices in newspapers, on the web and with the Florida Association of Special Districts. A total of 22 responses had been received.

“Now that we have a group of candidates, the board needs to provide direction on how you want to continue,” Viator said.

Widing said he had worked with staff to assemble the list, which had been flagged for permanent and interim applicants.

“I think we should boil this down to a list of no more than five people we think would be suitable for either the permanent or interim [position],” Widing said, inviting discussion on whether they want to pursue an interim or permanent manager.

Widing recommended that the board move forward and find a permanent replacement now.

“Based on the strength of some of the candidates that are available, I’m ready to consider [that],” he said, adding that he has been impressed with how board members and staff have performed in the time that Saunier has been gone. “Each one of you has done an outstanding job of taking responsibility, jumping in and doing the job.”

Schiola agreed with Widing and made a motion to pursue a permanent administrator, explaining that he did not want to go through the process again in three or four months.

“Let’s just go ahead and do it,” he said. “The district is running relatively well. The employees stepped up to the plate. The board members stepped up to the plate. Mary and her team stepped up to the plate.”

Schiola pointed out that the position had been advertised publicly as required. “We have plenty of names and businesses here, and I recognize a few of them,” he said. “I think most of them are probably very well-qualified.”

Snowball said that at the last meeting, Widing had volunteered to narrow the list to three to five candidates, and Widing said he was still willing to take on the task. He asked whether Ryan would be able to help with the process by looking at qualifications, credentials and background checks, because he was not in a position during the day to conduct some of the necessary research. “Mr. Ryan and I can sit here and boil these applications down,” Widing said.

Viator suggested that any meetings between the two be announced and posted due to Sunshine Law requirements.

Ryan asked for comments on what pay scale board members thought would be appropriate, considering that there was general agreement that the workload for the position would diminish as more district roads are turned over to the town.

After discussion, the board reached a consensus on a range of $70,000 to $95,000 a year with benefits the same as other district employees.

Schiola made a motion to proceed with the selection process, which carried 5-0.