Thursday, September 20, 2018
Opinion

It’s time to cut your losses, Mayor Buckhorn

What’s the going rate for being dumber than a sack of Gasparilla beads? Oh, about $3 million -— and counting and counting.

Late last year a federal jury agreed with former Tampa Fire Rescue Department employee Tanja Vidovic that she had been discriminated against and awarded the veteran first-responder a $245,000 judgment.

She had been horribly mistreated. First the jury agreed with Vidovic that the city had discriminated against her because she was pregnant and then fired her after she filed a complaint about her treatment.

That was bad enough. But the trial also exposed the upper echelons of Tampa Fire Rescue as a good ol’ boys club. Jurors heard testimony about sexual harassment against Vidovic — propositions, lewd comments and double standards of discipline where the firefighter would be written up for minor infractions while male colleagues who may have committed the same mistake were overlooked.

Vidovic was forced to undergo a demanding fitness for duty physical test while pregnant. And she passed it with flying colors only to be ordered to do it again.

One might think that in the wake of the Vidovic trial, an embarrassed Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn would have cleaned house at the Fire Department to rid it of a bunch of sexist dopes who treated the firehouse as if it was their own personal Hedonism II resort, beginning with fire Chief Tom Forward.

Alas, no. Instead Buckhorn is moving ahead with an appeal of the December verdict, which in the end, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ Caitlin Johnston, could ultimately cost the city at least $3 million and probably much more.

On almost any other issue, Buckhorn has proven to be an able steward of the city and a deft politician, too. But on this point, Hizzoner has adopted an intractable sense of myopia, siding with the bullies against a now legally recognized victim of discrimination.

"I’m not privy to the specifics [of the Vidovic case] nor am I privy to who’s a chronic complainer and who’s not," Buckhorn said back in 2015. But he is privy now. And it certainly seems if Vidovic was indeed a "chronic complainer," she certainly had plenty of justifiable material to work with — at least $245,000 worth.

Nobody likes to lose a court case. And it is not as if the city went to battle with Vidovic before U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich unprepared. Buckhorn hired Tom Gonzalez, a first-rate trial attorney.

The city more than had its day in court. And yet one of the grounds for the appeal is the rather specious argument that Gonzalez was limited by Kovachevich in the time the city was given to make its case. Oddly enough, court records show Gonzalez used 30 hours to defend the city, while Vidovic’s legal team only needed 24 hours to plead its case.

One might argue that if Gonzalez had eaten up more time, given the ham-handed behavior of the department’s leadership, perhaps the jury award favoring Vidovic might have gone even higher.

Vidovic’s attorneys are asking Kovachevich to order the city to cover their client’s pension benefits estimated at $1.2 million, her lost back pay totalling between $401,966 to $712,404 and her legal fees now totalling $684,000, not to mention the $300,000 the city already has paid out to the Gonzalez law firm.

Appealing all of this will only run the tab ever higher and take ever longer to eventually settle a legal claim justly won by Vidovic.

Buckhorn has many fine virtues, but knowing when to fold ‘em obviously isn’t one of them.

One of the most difficult things for any pol is having to grudgingly swallow a huge, stinking pile of pride and simply do the right thing.

Does Buckhorn really want part of his legacy to be that he contributed to justice denied?

Who’s the chronic complainer now?

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