by Columbia County Observer’s Stew Lilker
November 18, 2016
The luster wore off former Columbia HS and FSU star quarterback Kelly Lowrey’s star quality as he got to know more about Florida’s infamous good ole’ boy county and the ways it did its sports business. According to the highly regarded Tallahassee attorney, Marie Mattox, in 2015, Mr. Lowrey was placed on three days leave without pay, which was followed by an article in the Lake City Reporter quoting Mr. Lowrey’s boss, Paula Vann, who “falsely stated” that he was responsible for a $3,000,000 loss to the County.
Last night, the County 5, without one word of discussion, after claiming that it had not discussed the settlement with County Attorney Joel Foreman, agreed to an oath of silence and settled with Mr. Lowrey for $124,000. Mr. Lowrey’s evaluations would be put in an envelope marked “sealed” and in return Mr. Lowrey agreed that the County did nothing wrong.
An hour later, Mr. Foreman breached the “code” of silence.” (The Foreman memo and Settlement Agreement)
Flimflam? Lowrey’s Personnel Records
On October 11, 2016, the County prepared a Notice of Personnel Action (NOPA). Someone in the County, it is not clear who, spoke with Mr. Lowrey’s attorney and an agreement was made on October 11 to put Mr. Lowrey on paid administrative leave beginning October 17. The document in the file was not signed by anyone.
At that time, Mr. Lowrey was being represented by Ms. Mattox. The negotiations with the County were ongoing and Mr. Lowrey couldn’t have spoken with County Staff regarding anything that had to do with his lawsuit against the County.
Written in the NOPA was the following: “Employee will be placed on administrative leave effective October 17, 2016 at employee’s request through counsel.”
On Friday, October 21, your reporter made a public record request for Mr. Lowrey’s NOPA.
The County responded promptly: “Mr. Lowrey has not been placed on administrative leave. We do have a draft copy to place Mr. Lowrey on Administrative leave if you would like a copy of it?”
A copy of the “draft” NOPA was requested and received from the County on Monday, October 24. As mentioned above, the NOPA clearly stated that Mr. Lowrey was placed on Paid Administrative Leave effective October 17.
Nowhere on the document does it say “draft.”
Last night at the County 5, your reporter had a question regarding Mr. Lowrey’s administrative leave. “The NOPA, when Mr. Lowrey went out on administrative leave, why wasn’t that [an executed copy] in the personnel file? (silence) He was on administrative leave – the County was paying him regardless of what happened with this arrangement – Why wasn’t that in his personnel file?”
County Manager Ben Scott answered, “Mr. Lowrey never came in for that action, so that NOPA was never executed.”
Your reporter followed up, “But you could have signed it and we could have just waited until he came back.”
Mr. Scott replied, “I will not sign a NOPA until I review it and go through it with an employee.”
Sealed Personnel Records
County Mainstream Media Thought They Were Sealed
Anyone of average intelligence, who read the Lowrey Termination Agreement, including the County’s mainstream print media (Lake City Reporter), which clearly would have reviewed the document at all levels from the reporter to the publisher, thought the agreement called for Mr. Lowrey’s personnel records to be sealed.
On November 8, 2016, the newspaper wrote that the County “will seal his disciplinary records in exchange for his resignation, under terms of the legal settlement.”
It is not clear if Mr. Foreman helped them with the explanation.
Last night, while the mainstream media sat silent on the sidelines, your reporter addressed the issue with County Attorney Foreman and The 5.
The Sealing of the Records
Another Columbia County Case of “Who’s on First“
Your reporter addressed the sealing of the records, “It says certain parts of his personnel records will be put in a sealed envelope. That’s against the law. That’s a public record. His evaluations cannot be sealed. If they are sealed, I will probably sue you.”
On October 24, both County Attorney Foreman and County Manager Scott went to Tallahassee to attempt to negotiate a settlement with Mr. Lowrey. Your reporter addressed that issue: “When he [Mr. Foreman] went to Tallahassee to negotiate the settlement agreement, how did he know how much to settle for, unless he spoke to some of the board members?”
Mr. Foreman said, “The agreement does call for Mr. Lowrey’s — I’ll read the language — Columbia County shall cause all of Lowrey’s disciplinary records to be placed in an envelope marked ‘SEALED’ and filed with Lowrey’s personnel records.”
Mr. Foreman continued, “It is understood and Mr. Lowrey understands that is the way it works. They’ll be put in an envelope marked sealed. It will actually be public records. It will actually be available for whoever wants it. He understood that was the way it was going to work. He asked for this language to be included. As long as the records aren’t withheld from anybody, there is really no reason that we can’t honor his request.”
There are not transcripts kept of mediation sessions and Mr. Lowrey can’t speak about what went on at mediation.
Your reporter said, “That’s crazy.”
Mr. Foreman continued, “The envelope will have the word sealed on the outside. The envelope itself won’t even be sealed. It will be placed in the file. They are public records.”
Your reporter followed up, “Is it going to say public records on the envelope?”
Chairman Nash objected to the question.
Mr. Foreman said, “I don’t mind the question, Mr. Chair.”
Chairman Nash allowed the question, “Go ahead.”
Mr. Foreman asked, “What do you want to know?”
Your reporter followed up, “Is it going to say ‘Public Records — Sealed — Public Records’ on the envelope?”
Mr. Foreman answered, “Everything in that file is public record. The envelope itself will not be sealed. It will be marked sealed.”
Your reporter said, “It’s up to the Board.”
Mr. Foreman replied, “I agree.”
After a brief conversation between Mr. Foreman and The 5, which addressed the question of the Commissioners and Mr. Foreman discussing The Agreement, (no one spoke with anyone except Commissioner Phillips, who spoke with Mr. Foreman) Mr. Foreman told The 5, “If you accept this tonight, the case is over.”
Commissioner Williams immediately moved to approve the agreement. Without any discussion it was approved unanimously.
That was it.
According to the agreement there was to be no more discussion by the Board or Mr. Foreman.
The code of silence, known in Sicily as the Code of Omerta, was now operative.
One Hour Later
Your reporter, who is also a resident of Columbia County, came to the microphone for public comments, at which time he again brought up the issue of the envelope that was marked “Sealed.” After some brief comments by your reporter, Mr. Foreman offered comment on the “Sealed” envelope.
“Stew, can I help you out with something? Can I help you out with something on this point, because I think it’s important? They [referring to Ms. Mattox and Mr. Lowrey] wanted to mark ‘invalid.’ This was the compromise.” [READ MORE]