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Lukowiak leaves Palmetto CRA with buyout


PALMETTO - Tanya Lukowiak is out as executive director of the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency.

Read about the former executive director and the compliance audit.

On Monday night, the Palmetto City Commission, sitting as the CRA, accepted the advice of attorney Susan Churuti and voted 5-0 to approve a motion to buy out Lukowiak. She is to be paid $147,480.

Lukowiak had been on leave with pay during a compliance audit, but that ended effective Monday. The audit is not finished yet, but Churuti told the board it is far enough along that action could be taken.

"I got far enough into the process to determine that there were two approaches that you could take," she said. "The first approach is to look back and determine who knew what, when; what went wrong; who was responsible for what; and the other alternative is to look forward, and try to solve the problems.

"The first approach has a tendency to be expensive, it has a tendency to be slow. The second approach does solve the problems, it's cheaper, it's faster, and at that point my recommendation was to slow down the audit and give you a meaningful choice as to how you want to proceed.

"In conducting the part of the compliance audit that's been completed so far at the city of Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency, I've become aware of various concerns regarding compliance with Florida law. Some of the allegations that I've reviewed, if they were proven to be true, and they have not been proven to be true yet, could be criminal. Some of these activities could be unconstitutional. Some of these activities indicate that an illegal expenditure has occurred. Some of these activities indicate violations of the commission on ethics rules, personnel rules."

She said the was pleased to advise them that that had taken sufficient remedial measures to date, the most significant being that the City Commission stepped in as the CRA board and exercised the CRA powers directly, appointed a CRA advisory board, increased the oversight by the city and hired a special counsel for a compliance audit.

"On June 16, the CRA director, as part of this slowdown, Tanya Lukowiak, was placed on administrative leave with pay and both parties began discussions regarding separation from employment. At that point, I wasn't sure what the restructuring, if it was going to be appropriate for you to remove a full-time CRA director," Churuti said. "We've reviewed with Mrs. Lukowiak and her counsel, and we think it's in the best interest of both the city and Mrs. Lukowiak to terminate her employment as of the effective date of today, July the 20th.

"We have entered into a severance agreement and it has been executed by Mrs. Lukowiak, it's been provided to you. The effect of this agreement is to release the city from any liability under her existing employment agreement, which does extend between Aug. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2010."

Payment will be made of $147,480, Churuti said, the amount of the existing contract of the CRA.

"At this point, it is my strong recommendation that you enter into the settlement agreement and then afterwards, perhaps at your next meeting, you can determine how and under what circumstances and to what extent you want to pick up the slowed-down audit and get any answers to the questions that you may have," she said.

City Commissioner Mary Lancaster asked if the funds would be disbursed in 10 days, and she was told they would be.

The board then voted 5-0 on the motion to accept the agreement.

CRA Advisory Board chairman Charles Smith strongly urged the board to pick an interim director, and proffered a name, but members were reluctant to do so at the current meeting amid debate over pay, term of service and other issues.

Outside the chambers, Smith said he had been briefed on what would happen.

"I highly recommended Jeff Burton coming in to be interim CRA director until they find a new one to replace Mrs. Lukowiak," he said. "As you know, we're still going through a compliance audit, there's issues that come forward about different activities that have taken place, and until that is straightened out and the compliance audit is completed, we need someone who is the interim CRA executive director until we can find a full-time one."

The compliance auditor said she found activities that were "troubling," Smith said.

"She has not completed the compliance audit, and my understanding is that the compliance audit will take several more months to complete because she found so much information that was troubling to her," he said. "We as the CRA must move forward and go forward to better serve the people. That's why I asked them tonight to put someone in there that can start moving quick."

Burton is well-qualified for that job, Smith said.

Whatever the findings, he said, "I'm pretty sure the city will forward that to the proper authorities."

Churuti deferred all comments to Palmetto City Attorney Mark Barnebey, who said it allows the city to move on.

"It allows everyone involved to move on with their lives," he said.

He refused to speculate about what is next for Lukowiak.

"There are certain aspects that we need to look at and obviously we are going to make changes and adjustments in the program to address concerns that were raised by the audit," he said.

The audit is partially done, and they are in the process of putting together recommendations for the CRA, Barnebey said.

"Things that need to be done to address concerns such as correcting the maps, ensuring that there are checks and balances, many of which have already been incorporated into what has been done in the last few months," he said.


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