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Gainesville city attorney says Shuler violated no city policies
Severance package up for debate at Thursday meeting
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Gainesville officials found no evidence that former City Manager Bryan Shuler violated city policy by the time Shuler resigned on Nov. 13, according to Sam Harben, the attorney for the city’s personnel board.

The City Council will likely decide Thursday on whether to give a severance pay package to the former city manager.

Shuler resigned three days after he was placed on paid administrative leave so the mayor could investigate allegations of sexual harassment that involved sending late-night text messages to city employees.

Mayor Myrtle Figueras had begun investigating the allegations, made in an anonymous letter the city received on Nov. 3, but found nothing by the time Shuler resigned, Harben said.

“The investigation had started, but there was no resolution of that investigation,” Harben said. “Mr. Shuler resigned ... and the investigation had not been completed.”

“The investigation, to that point, as reported to me, was that there was no evidence of sexual harassment.”

The council likely will discuss and decide on Shuler’s severance in an executive session Thursday, Councilman Danny Dunagan told The Times on Friday.

“I don’t know what will come out of the meeting,” Dunagan said. “If he gets anything or what, I can’t say.”

The City Council has the power to override Shuler’s employment agreement, which does not entitle the former city manager to severance pay if he voluntarily resigns, and approve a severance package, Dunagan said.

Shuler currently is being paid for his accrued vacation leave, Harben said.

Although a Nov. 17 letter that detailed Shuler’s severance package — awarding him six months’ salary, retirement and health benefits — had the mayor’s name at the bottom, Figueras did not write it, nor was it sent to Shuler, Harben said.

City staff drafted the letter for Figueras, but the mayor had not actually seen it, he said.

The letter, obtained by The Times through an Open Records Act request, awards the former city manager $71,012.80 in pay over the next six months, $3,600 of which is an allowance Shuler receives for using his vehicle on city business.

Dunagan and Harben said Friday that city officials had yet to decide on Shuler’s severance.

“We’ve not decided to give him a severance. I mean, we don’t know yet,” Dunagan said.

“... Bryan served the city of Gainesville for 11 years and he did a good job and he made a mistake. That’s all I can say.”

Shuler’s only mistake, according to Harben, was casual banter.

“There was some bantering going on, and that may have been a mistake,” he said. “Sometimes, you can’t joke with folks, but I don’t believe ... there was never any determination by anybody that Mr. Shuler violated policy, any policy of the city.”

The investigation into Shuler resulted from an anonymous letter sent to city Human Resources Director Joan Sheffield on Nov. 13. It alleged that records from Shuler’s city-provided cell phone showed he had been calling and sending text messages to a city employee at late hours.

Sheffield, who initially researched the allegations before turning them over to the mayor on Nov. 4, said she did not believe Shuler sexually harassed any employee.

Records obtained through an Open Records Act request detail the content of a few text message exchanges from Shuler’s phone in which he compliments someone on his or her looks and writes, “You can leave with me any time you want.”

Figueras placed Shuler on administrative leave on Nov. 10 while she investigated the allegations, but Shuler decided to resign on his own and not at the urging of the council, Harben said.

Shuler’s employment agreement gives him six months’ salary and benefit coverage if he is fired before the “expiration of the term of employment.” The severance pay does not apply if his termination results from wrongdoing or if he voluntarily resigns, according to the employment agreement.

However, the City Council has the legal power to negotiate a severance package outside of the confines of the contract, Harben said.

Shuler’s resignation letter stated he was leaving immediately to take care of his ailing parents. He has not returned repeated phone messages left by The Times.