by Tiffanie Reynolds
Former Neptune Beach City Clerk Karla Strait filed a lawsuit against the City of Neptune Beach, asking for over $105,000 in damages from her firing in August.
Neptune Beach City Council voted 3-2 to fire Strait during a special city council meeting Aug. 25.
City staff and council members claimed Strait was creating a toxic work environment.
During that meeting and a workshop meeting about communication between city employees a few days before, City Manager Andy Hyatt said Strait gives directions to employees not under her purview, takes things personally, which clouds her judgment, eavesdrops on private conversations being held in his office and violated the Sunshine Law when she tried to negotiate with a union representative in a private meeting.
In the lawsuit filed Nov. 4, Strait claims that all of those statements are false and fabricated to convince the city council to fire her. It outlines 10 counts detailing that Mayor Harriet Pruette, Hyatt and City Attorney Patrick Krechowski used those claims to misrepresent her in front of city council, city staff and the public, handpicked individuals to confirm their claims during these meetings and lobbied other city council members to push for her termination.
Strait said the claims have hurt future employment opportunities as well as respect from her colleagues and the community.
“I was completely blindsided,” said Strait. “I was never given an opportunity to tell my side of the story, or rebut any of the false accusations that were made against me at that meeting.”
Strait said in the lawsuit Hyatt numerous times tried to circumvent the Sunshine Law, ignored the role of city clerk and delegated portions of the clerk’s duties to others working for him. Krechowski also tried to ignore the duties and responsibilities of the city clerk in day-to-day matters of city government.
Strait brought this to Pruette’s attention, but said the mayor didn’t want to hear anything about it.
Weeks before the two meetings, Strait said Pruette was actively campaigning for Elaine Brown and that Pruitt, Hyatt and Krechowski openly said negative things about candidates Bob Shimp and Kara Tucker.
There was pressure within the office to support Elaine Brown.
The lawsuit details that Pruette went into Strait’s office in the beginning of August and asked if she was against Brown. Strait explained that she couldn’t openly support any of the candidates because of her dual role as city clerk and Neptune Beach supervisor of elections.
A few weeks later, Pruette approached Strait and said that someone anonymously told her Strait was afraid of Brown taking over her office if she became mayor and that Strait was unhappy with the city manager. Pruette wanted to hold a meeting between herself, Strait, Hyatt and Krechowski on these rumors.
Shortly after, Strait hired attorney Joshua Cossey and filed a Whistle-Blower complaint on the mayor and city manager openly campaigning for Brown and the rumors that Strait feared Brown and was unhappy with Hyatt. The lawsuit claims the city did not follow its own whistle-blower policy by failing to investigate Strait’s complaint and firing her a week after she filed the complaint.
Strait said that after she hired Cossey, the first meeting was cancelled. A few days later she received an email about a workshop meeting on staff communications. That meeting created the separate city council meeting that resulted in Strait’s firing. [READ MORE]