Letter: Change needed in County Attorney

300-RANCOV-FLIPLetter: Change needed in County Attorney

Randy Covington
St Johns, FL

Recently, the County Commission reviewed a possible extension of the contract of County Attorney Pat McCormack. There was no consensus for a full five year extension and the decision at that time was to reevaluate in six months.

There was discussion at that meeting about a report from a consultant (yes, another consultant) who reviewed the operations of the County Attorney’s office and found deficiencies. To my knowledge, the public did not know of the report at that meeting and has not had time to evaluate it themselves.

In any event, I object to Chairman Morris’s decision to try to short circuit the vote of last month and sneak through an extension while no one is looking.

In the case of the Hopewell Settlement, the County Attorney missed the insertion of language that bypasses the normal permitting process used to determine the number of allowable beds at that property. There is a real possibility the county may have to accept an increase of several hundred beds because of the oversight. This will impose an even greater burden on the neighbors in that area.

Pat McCormack is a decent man. However, his leadership in the office has been detrimental, in my opinion, to the interests of the citizens in this county. The County Attorney should owe his duty of care to the citizens. Unfortunately, in several instances, his focus seems more attuned to the interests of the County Administrator or reveals a serious lapse in diligence, specifically in regards to the Hopewell Settlement.

McCormack wrote the original contract that brought Michael Wanchick to the county. There is a provision in that contract that, in the final two years, the County Commission must notify Wanchick if they intend to terminate the contract. If not, the contract will automatically extend for two additional years, with no opportunity for citizen review. This is an outrage in a public contract.

You can be sure the Commission will be getting daily emails to see that does not happen. The public must be given the opportunity to weigh in on such an import decision, this provision subverts the interests of the citizens to that of their employee, the county administrator. The County Attorney was wrong to have inserted it.

McCormack did not publically counsel the Commission that their extension of the County Administrator’s severance provision probably violated State Law. The Commission must always act in the best interest of the citizens they represent. Instead, McCormack allowed two more years extension in the middle of the administrator’s contract with enhanced severance that exceeds the maximum amount now allowed by law.

One Commissioner stated the move was nothing more than to “protect” the Administrator in a “heated” political environment.

It is the right of citizens, through the ballot, to change directions in county government and any attempt by the Commission to impose on them a burdensome contract to subvert that right is contrary to the spirit of governance at the consent of the electorate. Now we have word of another Attorney either resigning or being terminated.

The Commission spoke, they expected to see the matter delayed for another six months to give adequate consideration. Chairman Morris seeks to subvert that decision. It is time the Commission gives their full attention to the interests of the citizens — instead of those they are charged with overseeing.

Morris is making a blatant attempt to rush through an action to protect the County Attorney; instead of allowing the current extension to run its approved term. This must not occur.

Based on this blatant attempt to short circuit the will of the Commission and the people, I call on the Commission to move forward to seek applications from new candidates, including McCormack, so we can see the opportunities available to the citizens in this county. This is a position specifically designed to be reviewed from time to time. That is what we should do in this instance. The best course is to open the process and see if a better candidate emerges.