The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors could start 2013 searching for a new district administrator.
District Administrator Tanya Quickel offered her resignation at the tail end of the Dec. 12 board meeting after calls for reorganizing ITID’s leadership to bring the director of operations directly under board supervision.
Former Director of Operations Anthony Las Casas left the district this month after sharp public accusations, first that canal levels were being kept too low, then that the district had not properly handled the flooding from Tropical Storm Isaac.
Meanwhile, the balance of power on the board shifted with last month’s election of Supervisor Gary Dunkley, who replaced Supervisor Carlos Enriquez at last week’s meeting.
Also at that meeting, Supervisor Jennifer Hagar was tapped to be ITID’s new president, replacing longtime ITID President Michelle Damone, who remains on the board as a supervisor.
As the meeting drew to a close, Supervisor Carol Jacobs called for the district’s reorganization, saying that she was dissatisfied with the way it is being run and wanted to change the management structure.
“I would like to put a hiring freeze on now and advertise for an operations and maintenance position — somebody who knows parks, pumps and roads — who would work for the board instead of working under Tanya,” Jacobs said.
Damone pointed out that such a change would violate Quickel’s contract. “You realize that that’s a direct violation of her current contract, right?” Damone asked, pointing out that Quickel’s contract would have to be renegotiated or amended in order for such a change to be made.
“I’m doing something tonight that I’ve wanted to do,” Jacobs said. “I’m going in this direction because that is a very important position.”
Jacobs added that she wanted not only to bring the director of operations and maintenance directly under the board’s supervision, but to reduce the administrator’s responsibilities. “I would like to change that position to district manager, because the district manager should run the office and work on the budget,” Jacobs said.
“I’m not disagreeing or agreeing with you,” Damone said. “I’m just simply saying, to take any action on what you’re suggesting tonight, if that’s what a majority of the board wants, it would be in direct violation of her current contract.”
“We could either renegotiate this contract or we could terminate it, so take your pick,” Jacobs said. “What do you guys want to do? Because right now I’m in a position where I feel very uncomfortable. I have a hard time coming down here, and I’m walking on tippy-toes to even check my mailbox. I’ve been accused of things that are not [true]. Rumors have been spread from this office about me and my family.”
Jacobs said she would prefer to terminate Quickel’s position. “But I’m going about doing it in a nice way,” she said. “If we have to renegotiate it, I think we should.”
Jacobs said that when Quickel was hired in early 2010, she was the last supervisor called by ITID Attorney Charlie Schoech, and, although she did not like the contract, she was told there were already four votes to hire Quickel, so she went along with the majority. However, Jacobs said she is not convinced that Quickel has the necessary maintenance and operations experience to get the job done.
“I don’t think Tony [Las Casas] really knew the real scope of the job, but he had to follow Tanya’s lead, and Tanya is the lead with a lot of stuff that I don’t think she’s qualified for,” Jacobs said. “I could put the vote out there to terminate Tanya if you want me to.”
“If you put the vote out to terminate Tanya, do you know what it is going to cost the district? It’s like $150,000,” Damone replied, referring to Quickel’s separation agreement of one year’s salary if she is asked to leave without cause.
“Let me put it this way,” Jacobs said. “I know books. I was a bookkeeper for 12 years. What we would pay to terminate her contract has been lost in one month here. We would be better off to pay her contract, and we would still be ahead.”
Damone, however, disagreed. “Tanya has saved us a lot of money since she came on board. She did what we asked her to do with fiscal responsibility. We didn’t have public records correct here. We didn’t have our books correct here. She did everything we asked her to do, and this is a public process. I think we need to be respectful,” Damone said.
“I’m trying to be respectful,” Jacobs replied. “I feel like I’ve been treated like a rag doll, and I don’t even have respect of the board. The employees are told not to talk to me. They don’t even say ‘hi’ to me anymore. I don’t talk to these employees. I hear things through the grapevine. I don’t always believe what they say because I know how rumors are spread.”
Schoech suggested that the board determine whether there was support to terminate Quickel’s contract without cause. “If there is, then this matter is finished with no additional discussion,” he said. “If there isn’t, you cannot hire a maintenance operator until the contract is amended, and that will require a negotiation with Ms. Quickel.”
Jacobs made a motion to terminate Quickel effective immediately, but it died for lack of a second.
Dunkley said that he would not second such a motion without gaining more firsthand information. “I understand and I can empathize with Supervisor Jacobs, and one of the reasons I refuse to vote at this point is because I am the new kid on the block,” he said. “I’m a professional investigator, and I don’t act on hearsay.”
Dunkley said he would prefer to table the issue so he can study it and decide for himself. “I do think we need to sit down and reorganize things,” he said. “I think it needs to be more transparent.”
Jacobs agreed to table the idea of terminating or renegotiating Quickel’s contract for several months but said she still believed a hiring freeze is needed.
Damone suggested that supervisors conduct a workshop with Quickel and other administrative staff to review the responsibilities of the respective departments.
Jacobs said she favored such a workshop, but pointed out that she had asked for a similar meeting in September that never came to be.
Damone suggested they have a roundtable discussion outside the office. “It would help Supervisor Dunkley, too,” she said, “where the board of supervisors hears who the key staff members are, maybe each one could introduce their departments to us where we would be able to ask them questions.”
Jacobs added that she would like Schoech to review the Sunshine Law and help Hager with presiding over the board.
Damone asked Quickel if that was agreeable, but Quickel said she would prefer to have her resignation negotiated with legal staff.
“You have made it very clear about the hiring freeze and to change the direction of maintenance and operations, and I completely understand, but there is a contract in place,” Quickel said. “I would ask that you give direction for me to negotiate with the attorneys.”
Jacobs made a motion to begin negotiations for Quickel’s resignation, which was seconded with regrets by Damone. The motion carried 5-0.
“I’ll say for the record that I know why Tanya did that, because she is an absolute professional,” Damone said. “Even if you disagree with her, this is not fair to her professionalism. She is well-respected among her peers in this county and this state, and she deserves to be treated with respect.”