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Former Gulf Beaches Library director sues over termination

MADEIRA BEACH — Jan Horah, the former director of the Gulf Beaches Public Library, has sued the library, arguing she was improperly fired from her job last November.

The library's attorney, Andy Salzman, recently filed a motion to dismiss Horah's lawsuit, claiming that she never had a formal contract with the organization.

Horah's attorney, John Goldsmith, cites the library's official personnel policy that appears to require a series of warnings, verbal and written, before an employee can be fired.

That did not happen in Horah's case.

She was fired on Nov. 3 after the library's board of directors voted unanimously to ask for her resignation. The action came amid building criticism of her management from elected officials in the five towns the library serves — Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores.

Library board chairman Nick Simons, who is also mayor of Redington Beach, told the board at the time that other member town mayors had "lost confidence" in Horah's management of the library.

The strongest criticism against Horah came after her surprise announcement of an extra $302,000 in the library's operating checking account — an amount not previously reported to the board or listed among the library's official reserves.

Treasure Island officials had complained that Horah repeatedly failed to give them financial and membership information during their summer budget workshops. The city first refused to budget its annual $107,000 funding of the library, but later reinstated part of that funding.

Horah, who had served as the library's director since 1999 and earned a $69,436 salary, was also criticized for excessive absences largely due to illnesses and deaths in her family.

Goldsmith said in his complaint that the library "breached" its own policies by firing Horah without first giving her a verbal warning and a written warning.

He also claims that Horah is still the library director, since her firing by the library board did not occur at a meeting with a proper quorum.

"Ms. Horah has been damaged as a result of Gulf Beaches' breach, including loss of income, loss of benefits (including health and pension benefits), out-of-pocket expenses, and other damages," Goldsmith said in his complaint to the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.

He is asking for a trial jury and an eventual award of damages, including attorney's fees.

The library also is facing a second threatened lawsuit from Harriet Thompkins, the library's former assistant director and reference librarian who was fired in November when her position was eliminated as a budget-cutting measure.

Craig Berman, Thompkins' attorney, charged possible discrimination in the library's firing of the "top two officials, both of whom happen to be black" and their replacement with "white subordinates."

Former Gulf Beaches Library director sues over termination 01/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 9:48pm]
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