Palmer Davis, an 18-year member of the city of Lakeland legal staff with an expertise in land-use issues, was named interim city attorney today by the City Commission.
His appointment comes one week after the abrupt retirement of 18-year City Attorney Tim McCausland following his arrest Oct. 9 on suspicion of “precursor acts facilitating prostitution.” He has pleaded not guilty.
At least one commissioner was ready today to elevate Davis, 54, to city attorney from his position as assistant city attorney. But Mayor Bill Mutz suggested — and the rest of the commission agreed — that a three-month period is needed to see if Davis likes the job and the commission likes his performance.
During the interim period, Davis will get a 10 percent raise above his $136,432-a-year salary. Assistant City Attorney Ramona Sirianni will also get a 10 percent increase during the next three months to compensate for her increased responsibilities and workload.
Mutz also suggested — and the rest of the commission agreed — that they need to devise a contract for Palmer as interim city attorney and any future city attorneys.
Unlike City Manager Tony Delgado, who is the commission’s only other direct report, McCausland did not work under a contract. And that led to questions and uncertainty about how his abrupt retirement should be handled.
Delgado said his contract spells out termination issues. Because McCausland had no contract, Delgado and Davis spent much of the morning after the arrest consulting the City Charter as they devised a list of options for the commission.
And commissioners said they were left uncertain how to respond to questions from constituents about whether a lower-level city employee would be allowed to retire and take advantage of retirement and other benefits, as McCausland did.
The answer, according to Delgado and Davis: The city charter allows it except in specific cases such as instances of embezzlement or misfeasance.
“Good standing determines the allocation,” Mutz said, pointing out that McCausland is presumed innocent until proved otherwise. For that reason, a final payout of McCausland’s unused vacation and sick time (he is eligible for the $8,000 maximum) will await a legal determination of his guilt or innocence, Mutz said.
“Due process is important,” Commissioner Justin Troller said. “Many people are judgmental with an allegation, true or not; I think it’s fair that we let due process play out.”
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Commissioners also raised questions of whether the Wednesday he was arrested in Brandon at 11:40 a.m. was a work day for McCausland.
That exposed another difference between procedures in the city manager’s office and the city attorney’s office. Delgado said he informs city commissioners in advance when he will be off from work.
The practice for professionals in the city attorney’s office has been to wait until turning in their time sheet at the end of a pay period to note any vacation or sick time, Davis said. “I don’t think he (McCausland) has ever requested vacation time in advance; he’s the supervisor,” he told commissioners.
The day McCausland was arrested is considered a vacation day because when he came to clear out his office last Thursday night, he turned in a time sheet that marked both Wednesday and Thursday as vacation days, Davis said. His letter of resignation, submitted the next day, took effect immediately.
Davis is a graduate of the University of Florida School of Law and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1990. He has worked closely with the Community and Economic Development Department on issues related to planning, development and property transfers.
Commissioners had discussed adding a fourth staff attorney, and during the next three months, Davis and Sirianni will evaluate whether it will be more effective to increase the staff size or expand use of contract attorneys to handle an increasing workload.