TC Palm
October 22, 2010

Fort Pierce, former Community Services assistant director settle discrimination complaint

By Alexi Howk

FORT PIERCE — The city has agreed to pay the former assistant director of the Community Services Department, which is under federal investigation for allegations of fraud and corruption, $20,864 to settle a discrimination complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Dorina Jenkins filed the complaint after she was laid off from her job March 1 following allegations the department she helped supervise engaged in corruption, mortgage fraud and favoritism. City officials contend the elimination of Jenkins’ position had nothing to do with the allegations.

Jenkins had been with the city since 1995. It’s unclear what Jenkins’ accusations are; she couldn’t be reached for comment and her complaint could not be obtained.

Jenkins’ settlement marks the third discrimination case in the past year in which the city and its insurers have agreed to pay in total $570,864.

“Continued litigation has significant legal expenses and costs associated for both parties,” city spokeswoman Anne Satterlee said. “It is in the best interest of the taxpayers and city of Fort Pierce to have an acceptable resolution to these type of claims, if possible.”

City Manager David Recor eliminated Jenkins’ position, as well as others who worked in Community Services, after he reorganized the department and gave it a new name following a city-sanctioned forensic audit conducted by New York City-based Kessler International.

The audit revealed acts of corruption, mismanagement, cronyism and fraud in Community Services and was turned over to federal agencies by Recor. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the FBI have been conducting an ongoing investigation into the allegations that Community Services misused state and federal housing money to assist low- to moderate-income families.

Satterlee said the investigation is ongoing.

City Commissioner Reggie Sessions said the city shouldn’t agree to pay anything to Jenkins pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

“It doesn’t make sense to settle a monetary issue until we find out, if in fact, there was some criminal wrongdoing (on Jenkins’ part),” Sessions said. “As far as I’m concerned, if the criminal investigation comes back unfounded, then perhaps Ms. Jenkins needs to be offered her job back or at that point we need to consider a civil settlement. But to put the buggy before the horse doesn’t make sense in this case.”

During a meeting of the City Commission on Monday night before the board voted 4-1 to approve the settlement with Sessions voting no, City Attorney Rob Schwerer said Jenkins’ settlement and the federal criminal investigation are two separate issues. He said Jenkins was not laid off because of the investigation.

“This is a civil settlement in reference to various different employment-related claims,” Schwerer said. “If there are criminal charges filed later, it would not affect the city’s civil liability for the alleged violations that we’re settling. Of course, we’re not admitting any liability for anything here.”

Schwerer said should there be criminal violations found or filed or if the investigation finds that there were any misappropriations of funds, the city has the ability to seek restitution to force Jenkins to repay the city the $20,864. Schwerer was unavailable for comment after the meeting to say why the city could seek the restitution since he said the two cases were separate.

Schwerer, however, said at Monday’s meeting that Jenkins left the city in “good standing.”

“There was no allegation of wrongdoing nor was there any allegation of a dischargeable offense for cause by the city,” Schwerer said.

He said one of Jenkins’ complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was had she known the city was going to eliminate her position she would have applied for the city’s voluntary separation incentive plan offered to encourage employees to leave the city because of budget cuts. The deadline to apply for the program was August 2009.

“That factor alone was one of the motivating factors for us to look at this settlement to the extent that we are providing her with the voluntarily incentive plan benefits,” Schwerer said.

In exchange for the settlement, Jenkins agreed to release the city from all present and future claims. Jenkins also had to agree to represent the city “in a good light and do nothing to injure or disparage the city’s reputation or good standing.”

City Hall watchdog Linda Hudson, who helped expose several of the allegations that led to a forensic audit of Jenkins’ department, said the payout to Jenkins is “a slap in the face to taxpayers.

“Does the current City Hall regime have any regard for the taxpayer’s money?” Hudson said. “A forensic audit found Ms. Jenkins to have abdicated her role to protect the taxpayer’s funds, but the city has agreed to her claim for a voluntary separation incentive of $20,000 plus.

“The (voluntary separation) program is a ‘dead’ program and the deadline for applying for it was over a year ago,” Hudson said. “Dorina Jenkins ‘termination’ was at least six months after any current or former employee was eligible for this program and, as far as I know, there were no other ex-employees who were eligible. Additionally, she was terminated in a different fiscal year than when the program was active.”

In the summer of last year, the city agreed to settle an 18-count racial discrimination federal lawsuit for $400,000 with three former black code enforcement officers. In that case, the city paid out $25,000 to cover its insurance deductible and its insurer covered the remaining payment.

In December of last year, the city agreed to pay former code enforcement officer Shirley Kirby, who also is black, $150,000 after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint against the city on her behalf. The complaint alleged the city retaliated against her for filing a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after her supervisor referred to her as “a monkey.”

Satterlee said she didn’t know if the city’s insurance covered the Kirby or Jenkins cases. Schwerer couldn’t be reached for comment.

Sessions said the recent complaints filed against the city are an indication “that internally something is going on, and I brought that to the City Commission’s attention a couple months ago in making sure we do everything we possibly can from a prevention standpoint with human resources to make sure that our employees are trained so that we won’t have these discrimination lawsuits.”

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