MADEIRA BEACH — The Gulf Beaches Public Library paid its former director $55,000 to end a lawsuit in which she claimed she was unlawfully fired.
"I am just glad it is over," said Nick Simons, chairman of the library board and mayor of Redington Beach.
The library's insurance company paid the bulk of the settlement, $35,000, and the library paid the remaining $20,000, Simons said.
The settlement is the result of a formal mediation conducted in November just before Jan Horah's lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial.
The library board agreed in a subsequent closed meeting to pay its former director to end the lawsuit.
Horah contended that the library wrongfully fired her in November 2008, breaching several provisions of her contract.
That contract was actually the library's personnel manual, which called for a verbal warning to be given, followed by written warnings before an employee could be fired.
"Only after a second written warning for a third occurrence of the same action could her employment be terminated. Ms. Horah never received any verbal warning," Horah's attorney, John D. Goldsmith, wrote at the time.
He also claimed that Horah was still the library director, as her firing by the library board did not occur at a meeting with a proper quorum.
The action came while Horah was out of town and a month after Treasure Island cut all its funding in a dispute over the library's financial management. That city, Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, Redington Shores and North Redington Beach jointly own the library and pay proportionately for its operation.
During Treasure Island's 2008 budget deliberations, commissioners there became upset about what they viewed as Horah's refusal to forward requested financial information on the library's operations.
The city first refused to budget its annual $107,000 funding of the library, but later reinstated part of that funding.
Horah had become the focal point of Treasure Island complaints that grew to encompass the other member cities and the library board itself.
The strongest criticism of Horah's management of the library occurred after she revealed that the library had an extra $302,000 in its operating checking account she had not reported to the board or listed as official reserves.
"The additional $300,000 in reserves is proof of her competence, not grounds for a humiliating and immediate dismissal," Goldsmith said.
Horah was also criticized for excessive absences from work, even though many of those absences were because of her late husband's illness.
The library board asked for Horah's resignation, citing "loss of confidence" in her financial management of the library. When she refused to resign, she was fired.
"The $20,000 the library paid in the settlement is something Jan might have gotten if she had sat down and negotiated a separation. The insurance company paid the $35,000 to avoid a lawsuit," Simons said.
At the time of her firing, Horah earned $69,460 a year and had held her post since 1999. She could not be reached for comment.
Her lawsuit sought reimbursement for damages including loss of income, loss of benefits (including health and pension benefits), out-of-pocket expenses and attorney's fees.
After Horah's departure from the library, the five towns spent months negotiating Treasure Island's return as a paying member. A new agreement was approved last year that spells out how and when a member can withdraw from the library consortium.