HIGH SPRINGS – City of High Springs Planner Christian Popoli, who is set to be fired to make way for a city engineer, may have “whistle-blower” protection under Florida Law.

Representing Popoli, Attorney Linda Rice Chapman addressed the commission regarding her client during a commission meeting Tuesday, March 20.

“Your recent actions in creating a city engineer position, as it relates to my client, violate your charter,” Chapman told the commission.

“Mr. Popoli has whistle-blower protection against retaliation under Chapter 112 of the Florida Statutes for his reports of illegal activities by some, not all of the commissioners,” she added.

Chapman also said her office has been filing and will continue to file documents and complaints with the State Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Governor, the United State Department of Labor and the Alachua County Circuit Court.

Popoli cited concerns of retaliation and being fired as early as Sept. 22, 2010, when he wrote a letter on the matter to then High Springs City Manager Jim Drum.  In that correspondence, Popoli wrote, “I understand that Commissioner [Dean] Davis has made comments regarding my employment, or termination there of.  I believe that, based on my complaints, I am covered under the state’s Whistle Blowers’ Act.”

Popoli is presumably referring to an ethics complaint filed in 2010 against Davis by a private citizen.  The complaint stemmed from concerns that Davis was violating the City Charter by pushing city staff to approve permits for a particular business.  Although the Florida Commission on Ethics did not address the city charter issue, it did not find probable cause to believe Davis violated Florida state law in that matter.

In a Feb. 24, 2012 email to City Manager Jeri Langman, Popoli noted that he was recently informed that Mayor Davis told a local business person they should not be too upset about an issue surrounding their permit because the City was going to fire one of the people involved in the permitting process.

“I realize you have reassured me that you had no plans to fire me,” Popoli wrote to Langman.  “But if you don’t, I wish you would put an end to the threat of it from the commission.”

Popoli noted in an email to Langman on Tuesday, March 20, that she had verbally informed him that his last day of employment would be April 6, 2012.

In a February meeting, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas first proposed adding the staff engineer and information technology positions during a budget amendment hearing.  Although both positions were included in the overall amendment package, Barnas said he was not proposing to fund them.

By the March 8 meeting, however, Barnas urged the commission to vote to direct City Manager Langman to hire a city engineer.  When asked how the new city engineer position would be funded, Barnas said it should be taken from City Planner Popoli’s position.

An advertisement for a new city engineer has since been placed.  The City posted a salary of $21 hourly, the equivalent to $43,800 annually.

Following Chapman’s comments Tuesday, commissioners had little to say, although when questioned, City Attorney Ray Ivey did say it was expected that Popoli would continue his duties while employed.