Council members on Tuesday evening approved $312,000 to settle a lawsuit stemming from the alleged mistreatment of city’s former economic development director by Lanisha Makle, director of the Community Development department.
“This settlement could have been avoided,” commented Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. “I actually think the public is being dealt a disservice.”
“I really didn’t want to vote on this, but we have no choice,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman.
“It’s upsetting,” said Kenneth McDaniel, councilman at-large. “I’m unsatisfied with the fact that the director failed to show up to provide some sort of information to the council — we’re left to assume, I don’t even want to say what my assumptions are.”
According to court papers: Brian Sweeney, former economic director of the city, often got into disputes with the director leading her to demote him, and then eventually fire him. Sweeny was making $60,000 as economic director, after he was demoted the salary was cut in almost half, $35,000.
At one point Makle had him conducting business out of a park bench, according to the complaint.
“It is less than it would be otherwise had this matter were to proceed through the court, we’d find ourselves paying significantly greater sum,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman.
With Anthony Davis, 1st Ward councilman; Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman; and Rigo Rodriguez, councilman at-large, absent, Akhtaruzzaman and McKoy voted in favor while McDaniel voted against the settlement.
“Although I would like to vote no on this because I really disagree with the settlement,” said Morris, “but unfortunately I don’t have the luxury to vote no at this time.” Morris pointed out that there were only six council members present and with McDaniel having decided to vote against, another negative vote would result in the settlement being stymied.
“Reluctantly my vote is yes,” said Morris. Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, voted in the affirmative.
Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman and council president, asked: “We only need a simple majority, right madam clerk?”
The city clerk differed to Domenick Stampone, city’s head lawyer, who responded: “Simple majority.”
At that point Morris attempted to switch his vote to no, but it being Sayegh’s turn to vote on the resolution, the 6th Ward councilman said, “My vote is no.”
The settlement was approved with four votes.