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Former Largo employee files whistle-blower lawsuit against city

Published Apr. 28, 2016

LARGO — A former Largo plumbing inspector is suing the city, claiming that officials violated a law meant to protect whistle-blowers by firing him in retaliation for a complaint he filed with a state agency.

According to the lawsuit, dated April 14, Glenn Hall's former bosses conspired to fire him in November after he accused city plans examiners of approving building plans without proper qualifications last summer in complaints to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

"What he complained about and what he reported affected everybody in that city," said Hall's lawyer, Gary L. Printy Jr. "Sort of the incompetence, the breaking of the rules, all of that had consequences, and it really affected contractors, and it also at the end of the day affected the citizens of Largo."

City Manager Henry Schubert said Hall, 57, was fired based on several instances of misconduct unrelated to the complaint. According to a disciplinary report issued in November, Hall improperly completed or didn't complete building inspections. He also joked in an email that two city employees were involved in an affair.

"We feel we did nothing wrong," Schubert said. "We clearly did not terminate him in retaliation. We terminated him because of his misconduct."

Tampa-based attorney Tom Gonzalez will represent the city in the suit at a rate of $150 an hour and $75 an hour for paralegals.

According to the suit, the unlicensed activity resulted in a 911 call center being inoperable for the first two weeks it was open. It also caused faulty plumbing and electrical work in several large projects, including two Walmarts, a Wawa and an apartment complex.

Hall filed complaints against four separate employees, according to copies he gave to the Tampa Bay Times. They were William Ondulich, the city's top building official; Robert Hatton, the assistant building official; and Adriana Puentes-Shaw and Jon Prettyman, two plans examiners. Largo has paid attorney Jay Daigneault about $17,500 so far to represent them in the investigation at an hourly rate of $190, according to the city.

To review aspects of a plan such as the electrical or plumbing work, an examiner must have a license in that discipline to ensure the project meets building code. The investigation found that Ondulich let Puentes-Shaw review a plumbing plan on a house in Largo without a plumbing license. It also said he allowed Hatton and Prettyman to review electrical plans without the proper licenses, although it doesn't specify what the plans were for.

Ondulich requested a hearing to dispute the findings involving Puentes-Shaw and Hatton, according to records from the department.

Ondulich resigned in October during the state investigation. Carol Stricklin, the community development director and Ondulich's boss, was given a five-day, unpaid suspension in November after an internal review found that she failed to inform her superiors that Hall intended to file a complaint with the state.

Schubert said the examiners were cleared by the investigation and still work for the city. A representative from the agency said she could not confirm or deny even the existence of a complaint.

The department is still trying to fill Ondulich's position. The city is paying $19,500 to a search firm called Municipal Solutions to find candidates while Hatton fills in as acting building official, Stricklin said. Her department is also looking for a plans examiner and building inspector.

Hall said he hopes the lawsuit will prove him right and result in action on the city's part to prevent future issues in his former department.

"It was obviously wrong from the get-go," he said. "The people that are getting hurt are the contractors and the citizens. They're the ones that ultimately have to pay for it."

Kathryn Varn can be reached at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

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