GROVELAND, FL — The city of Groveland agreed Wednesday night to pay a former police corporal $53,600 to settle a claim that it wrongly fired her.
Katherine Homelius was fired in January 2014 for allegations that included neglect of duty and insubordination. Shortly after her termination, Groveland police also filed a criminal complaint against her for fraudulent use of a department credit card and four related counts of petty theft.
Homelius filed suit against the city, however, alleging that she was terminated in retaliation for her role in organizing a police union in Groveland in 2013. The union was certified in December 2013, Homelius was elected its president and she was fired a month later.
The timing was curious.
The Public Employee Relations Commission reviewed the case and agreed that the firing was retaliatory.
Then in March of this year, the State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Homelius over the credit card allegations.
Case closed, right? Wrong.
The city refused to forget the fraudulent charges, so it reinstated Homelius as it was directed to do by PERC and then promptly terminated her again on the same charges. Her attorney, Tobe Lev, wasn’t surprised. He characterized the city as vindictive and determined to win its point, facts be damned.
Unfortunately for the citizens of tiny Groveland, this is much more than an ugly public spectacle. It is an expensive one, too.
The city has paid its lawyers about $190,000 defending itself to PERC, and, because it lost the case, it is on the hook for another $68,000 to Homelius’ attorneys. Then tack on the $53,000 it now owes Homelius in back pay and benefits, and the city has well over $300,000 invested in this squabble.
Worse, its decision to fire Homelius a second time is a clear signal that the city intends to press on, no matter the cost.
Did we mention that the two “fraudulent” charges on the department credit card were for $21.53 and $119.02? The latter appears to have been for a Christmas party for the department’s young police Explorers.
Homelius’ attorney has already said he will fight the latest termination, and there is no reason to believe the outcome will be any different. The only mystery is how much the city will end up paying attorneys and Homelius this time around.
Groveland citizens would be justified in demanding answers from their City Council. All the evidence of wrongdoing points at the city, not Homelius. PERC said so — twice — and so did the State Attorney’s Office. And yet the city continues to push what appears to be a silly and expensive fight that could end up costing taxpayers $400,000 or $500,000. Who knows?
It’s time for Groveland to put an end to this witch hunt. City officials should swallow their pride, reinstate Homelius and move on.
All they’re accomplishing right now is to prove that Groveland did, indeed, need a police union to protect officers from management abuses.
From The Daily Commercial