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Former Oldsmar official sues city

The city's former personnel director sued the city and three council members Wednesday, charging they were out to get him for personal reasons when they cut money for his position two months ago. In the lawsuit he filed in federal court in Tampa, former personnel director Lou Draughon asked the court to freeze the city's budget, give him back his job and order the city and the council members to pay him thousands of dollars in damages.

Draughon's suit also contends the three council members _ Dotty Lee, Earl Halle and Jerry Beverland _ met secretly to plan how to oust him, in violation of Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.

Lee wanted to get rid of him because Draughon wouldn't promote her son, Charles, a Water Department employee who is married to Halle's stepdaughter, the suit contends.

And Beverland wanted him out because Draughon wouldn't allow him to dodge some city regulations in developing property, Draughon said in his suit.

The people running Oldsmar right now are out of control, Draughon said Thursday. "They just need to be brought back in line," he said.

Lee and Halle said they didn't want to comment on the suit Thursday and referred all questions to their attorneys. Beverland was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment.

The other two council members, Mayor Tom Pinta and Vice Mayor Jerry Provenzano, said they didn't want to comment on Draughon's suit, either. But when he heard that Draughon had sued the city, Pinta said, "I'm not surprised."

For two years Draughon, 49, was the city's personnel director, risk manager and public information officer, as well as administrative assistant for City Manager Bruce Haddock. His annual salary was $35,089.

During the city's first budget discussion in August, Halle suggested chopping $45,000 from Haddock's budget, eliminating the salary and benefits for Draughon's position.

Halle praised Draughon's job performance but predicted the local economy would be so bad next year that the city couldn't afford to keep him. Lee and Beverland backed Halle's motion.

Lee said "a good secretary" could do Draughon's job for less money. And Beverland blamed Draughon for cost overruns on the new City Hall, problems with developing a plan to revive downtown and letting a union gain a foothold among city employees.

Haddock told the council that Draughon was not to blame for any of those events and argued that getting rid of him was "a serious error." But Lee told Haddock, "Either he is not needed, or you are not needed."

Because of the council's 3-2 vote to cut funds for Draughon, his job ran out Sept. 30. Draughon said Thursday he gave council members some time to cool off and reconsider, but they wouldn't reinstate him, so he turned to the court for help.

In addition to the other charges in the suit, Draughon contends the council didn't follow proper procedures for adopting a budget, which led to his request that the court freeze Oldsmar's budget.

City officials have 20 days to respond to the suit, Hamilton said.

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