You’re About to Lose $225,000 You Don’t Have

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And you can blame it on the previous Fort Myers Beach administration for botching things up. It will be interesting to see if your current Town Council fully explains exactly what happened.

This all has to do with former town staff not following proper procedures immediately following Hurricane Ian and those mistakes will cost current taxpayers $225,000. Monday will be one of those Town Council meetings where the taxpayers look to Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt to say to the Town Attorney, what he says in nearly every meeting” for the benefit of the viewing audience can you tell everyone exactly what happened and why they are now out an unbudgeted $225,000.”

Here are all the details from the settlement agreement just in case the council breezes past it on Monday:

“In March of 2022 former Town Manager Roger Hernstadt signed a contract with Vetor Contracting Services to conduct repairs on the town’s south water tower. Immediately after the Hurricane former Utilities Director Christy Cory contacted Vetor and several other contractors and requested assistance with hurricane recovery efforts.

“The town attorney at the time wanted all vendor contracts in writing and FEMA compliant. A contract was signed by the Town Manager and Vetor on October 28, 2022.

“The contract contained a clause which under Florida law would authorize the prevailing party to recover attorney fees in the event of litigation due to a dispute. Thereafter, the town’s finance staff and the town’s public assistance team began reviewing Vetor’s invoices for payment and possible reimbursement from FEMA or the Town’s property insurance company. As the invoices were reviewed, questions arose resulting in a complex billing dispute, which lasted several months.

“In addition to hurricane recovery services, the billing dispute also included claims by Vetor for payment for renovations to space in the North Tower. Vetor claims Cory verbally told them to proceed with the work, which was not part of their emergency services contract. Staff has verified that some work was performed by Vetor in the North Tower, but the renovations remain incomplete.

“The Town received a demand from Vetor for mediation under the Florida Local Government Prompt Payment Act in November 2023. Derek Rooney, an attorney and mediator with the firm of Gray Robinson was hired and two mediation sessions were held.

“The settlement says the result of the two mediations, while not resulting in what either party thought they were entitled to, appears to be a reasonable compromise under the facts and would protect the Town from the risk of protracted litigation and an adverse judgment, inclusive of payment of Vetor’s attorney fees and costs.

“The attorneys’ fee provision was particularly concerning because even if Vetor were to win even a small judgment against the Town in the litigation, (and it appears that even under the Town’s calculations, the Town did owe some money to Vetor), such win would entitle Vetor to its attorneys’ fees which could easily far exceed the amounts claimed by Vetor.

“There is no guarantee of recovery by the town for the settlement amount from other sources; however, staff will continue to pursue reimbursement from FEMA and/or the town’s insurance carrier of the disputed invoices, as adjusted by the terms of the settlement agreement with Vetor. Approval of the settlement agreement will also require a budget amendment, which will be presented as a separate agenda item.”

The settlement agreement is not the full story by any means. Taxpayers, who now have to foot a $225,000 bill at a time money is extremely short, deserve a full and detailed explanation. Who did what and when did they do it? Has the new Town Manager put in policies to prevent this from happening again? Where is the money going to come from?

During this incident, town equipment went missing and criminal charges were being considered for at least one town employee until the town’s equipment miraculously reappeared.

The Town Council should also explain to the public whether anything that took place during this incident puts taxpayers at risk of FEMA clawing back money from the cleanup. FEMA has 10 years from a storm to examine invoices.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Crooked Roger and his cohorts. Follow the money! Don’t forget, Crooked Roger’s house burned down at the height of the storm. Wasn’t electric because there wasn’t any. No fire cause investigation because the remains of the house went into the bay. Battery powered timer attached to flammable liquids? Follow the money?

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