Joyce Marie Taylor
White Springs —
The White Springs Town Council, after a week's delay to verify pension benefits, voted to accept the resignation of Town Manager Robert Townsend on Thursday, April 26.
The Town of White Springs placed Townsend on paid administrative leave on March 28 after it was learned he may be under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Townsend then submitted his letter of resignation to Mayor Helen Miller on Wednesday, April 18. That same evening at the Town Council meeting the board attempted to vote on whether or not to accept the resignation, however, an audience member objected to the acceptance, questioning whether or not Townsend had a right to his pension benefits and if it was going to cost the town money. The issue was tabled until Thursday night, April 26 while Townsend’s pension with ICMA could be investigated.
Town Attorney Fred Koberlein looked into the matter and stated that upon contacting ICMA he learned that Townsend's retirement benefits could not be taken away from him, as he was fully vested in the program as a full-time employee of the town. Townsend, he said, paid into the plan at five percent and the town matched that same five percent, which was then paid to ICMA.
“I have learned that employees are 100 percent vested at all times once the pension plan provider receives the payment from the town,” stated Koberlein. “Furthermore, the vested benefited that part of the employee's account balance, which belongs to the employee after ICMA receives the payment, and that belonging to the employee is unconditional. Thus the employee's vested benefit cannot be taken away from the employee. It is not like the Florida Retirement System or any other compensation plan, which does factor in the method and or means of the employee leaving employment.”
In addition, Miller pointed out, that Townsend, upon his resignation, had 24 hours of comp time, 232 hours of vacation time, and had accrued over 500 hours of sick leave, however the town cap for sick leave is 240 hours. All of that added up to $7,573.92 due Townsend.
“He was employed for about 13 years, so that is less than $600 per year,” said Miller.
Miller then asked for a motion and councilman Richard Marshall did so by making a motion to accept Townsend's resignation. Councilwoman Tonja Brown seconded the motion. As the council was about to vote, they were interrupted by local resident Robert Dezendorf, who said the town was in violation of their contract because he said Townsend had to give the town 90 days notice.
The Council continued and unanimously voted to accept Townsend's resignation, after which the meeting was adjourned. Dezendorf and two others were then escorted out of the building by law enforcement after shouting accusations toward the Council.
Regarding accepting Townsend's resignation, Miller stated after the meeting adjourned, “We have a contract, we have a charter and state laws. We followed that.”
The FDLE is still reviewing the complaint against Townsend to determine if it warrants a criminal investigation and Town Clerk Shirley Heath continues to act as interim town manager.