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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jun. 24, 2009 10 years ago

Building official steps down

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Longboat Key Building Official Randy Fowler resigned Thursday, June 18, citing frustration over recent layoffs and how the building department’s finances were handled in recent years.

“Trying to work through budget issues and staffing issues got to be too much,” said Fowler, the longest tenured employee at the town. “It got to the point in time where it just wasn’t working for me anymore.”

A year ago this month, Fowler told The Longboat Observer that, in his opinion, the building division of the Planning, Zoning and Building Department has been overcharged for town services, which created a false operating deficit.

Fowler says the building division has provided $12 million in revenue to the town’s general fund over the past 10 years. However, Fowler says that at least 44% of each year’s building-division revenue has been paid to the general fund to pay for administrative services the town provides the department, with the remaining revenue used to pay for the division’s direct expenses.

The town, Fowler said, has charged the department too much for administrative costs. He also believes that the building department’s losses in the past couple of years could have been avoided if the town hadn’t decreased its permit fees years ago.

Fowler also claims that the building official should be in charge of the department, because, according to state statutes, a building official is deemed an administrative supervisor.

Town Manager Bruce St. Denis disagreed with Fowler’s claims last year and did so again this week.

“Randy’s expertise is in the building department only,” St. Denis said. “Randy was not a department director. Our finance director and finance consultants advise us on how to properly run the department.”

The final straw for Fowler, however, came when an inspector, a plan reviewer and an administrative assistant were laid off in May from his division to save the town a combined $200,000.

Fowler said he was out of town at a conference when he heard the news and said he was upset that the decision was made without his knowledge.

Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Daigle, however, disputes Fowler’s claim.

“I would never make a personnel decision that impacts the building official without consulting Randy first,” Daigle said. “Randy and I had many discussions about layoffs that were pending, which people might be laid off and in what order those layoffs could occur.”

Daigle sent an e-mail to town employees Friday, June 19, in which she named building inspector John Fernandez as the interim building official, effective Monday, June 22. Fernandez’s salary rose from $61,776 to $72,404.80 when he accepted the interim position.

Fernandez is the former Holmes Beach building official and has the necessary licensing for the position, Daigle said. Fernandez has been a building inspector for the town since 1996.

In the interim, Daigle will assume Fowler’s former role as the town’s code administrator.

Fowler’s departure also led to the re-hiring of Belton Wall effective Monday, June 22, at his former salary of $57,574.40. Wall was one of the three building department employees laid off in May.

Daigle said Wall was re-hired “to facilitate the reorganization of the department” due to Fowler’s departure.

Town accountant Sandi Henley said the revised savings amount from the building division will be reflected in the Aug. 1 recommended budget.

Fowler, who just last year received a pay raise, an additional two weeks vacation and the ability to draw his pension while collecting a new annual salary of $92,622.40, requested a three-month salary payout as an at-will employee, in addition to the payout of his unused vacation days and a year’s worth of medical coverage.

St. Denis, however, said Fowler will not receive a three-month salary payout because he resigned and was not terminated.

Fowler’s official last day as a town employee is Friday, July 3. Fowler is currently using medical leave and discretionary time because he injured his Achilles heel while performing inspections that were formerly done by an inspector.

“My job was not to dig the holes and town staff made it that way,” Fowler said. “I’m leaving on my terms.”

But despite his departure, Fowler said he’s not leaving as a disgruntled employee.

“I still own property on Longboat Key and have a lot of ties to the community,” Fowler said. “It’s my home and I just want to see it run properly.”

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