In what could be viewed as a small scale coup d’etat attempt, Councilman Jonathan Pearce is trying to force retiring City Attorney Pam Terranova to step down sooner by hiring an interim city attorney.
On Tuesday, Pearce met with Terranova in her office for about seven minutes and asked her to change her retirement date from Aug. 5 to April 20, saying he has a person he intended to have appointed as interim attorney until a permanent attorney is found.
Terranova, who has served as city attorney for 21 years and who has been practicing law for 27, didn’t take the news well.
“So, the way you congratulate me on my service is to shake my hand stab me in the back and tell me you want me to step down?” Terranova said. “I’m not changing my date. I don’t respond to one person on the council. I’m hired and fired by the majority of the council.”
Terranova said Pearce appeared “confident” that would happen, which led her to believe Sunshine State laws could have been violated.
“That concerns me,” Terranova said.
Councilwoman Paula Bousquet said he didn’t understand why Pearce wants to replace Terranova.
“Why replace an exemplary employee and bring in an interim attorney when Pam is willing to stay and she has experience?” Bousquet wondered.
Mayor Sam Ferreri called Terranova “tenacious,” saying she has an excellent record on defending the city and advising him and the City Council through the years.
Pearce said he’s not trying to undermine Terranova. His reason for asking her to leave earlier is driven by money, he said.
“Her (work anniversary) will come up in June, so instead of paying her 20 years, we’ll have to pay her 21 years in pension,” Pearce said. “I’m responsible to the taxpayers.”
Terranova, 52, said her anniversary date with the city is irrelevant.
“I have other years of service in Florida retirement beyond the city,” she said. “I’m well past the 20-year mark in Florida retirement.”
Terranova said Pearce’s motives are more sinister.
“I think Jonathan’s actions are a personal vendetta against me,” she said. “I believe he has a bias against women and it’s a pattern of discriminatory conduct.”
Pearce and Terranova do have a history.
After a June 2013 council meeting, Terranova filed a “report of personnel incident” to City Manager Wadie Atallah and City Clerk Denise McGrew, in which she said Pearce was belligerent to her and was heard shouting in the City Hall lobby, “keep that (expletive) (expletive) away from me.”
In the letter, dated June 18, 2013, Terranova wrote Pearce’s conduct “clearly demonstrated discriminatory conduct based on gender (and created) a hostile work environment.”
Pearce said he learned of the report on Tuesday.
“It’s nonsense,” he said. “She came after me in the chamber and tried to attack me physically.”
Terranova said that’s not true.
“It’s completely false,” she said. “He’s lying. He ordered me out of the room, I told him I had every right to be there.”
As for her retirement, Terranova said there’s no real reason.
“It just felt like the proper time,” she said.
She chose August because there is no code enforcement meeting scheduled that month.
“I thought (the new attorney) could cut their teeth and they wouldn’t have to jump right into it,” Terranova said.
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