Collier clerk closes satellite offices

— Collier County Clerk of Court Dwight Brock shut down six of seven satellite offices Wednesday due to a lack of money.

Brock and county commissioners are battling over $6 million to $7.5 million in revenue, a situation thought to be resolved last week after two days of mediation.

The closures mean that by Oct. 1, some 46 Collier County employees will have lost their jobs.

Closed satellite offices at Eagle Creek, Everglades City, Golden Gate City, Greentree Plaza, North Collier Government Services Center at Orange Blossom, and the Department of Motor Vehicles on Airport-Pulling Road mean county residents will have to drive to the main office at the Collier County Government Complex.

Only the Immokalee office remains open.

Prior to this, Brock had 230 to 240 employees.

Wednesday morning he called in workers from all the satellite offices and told them how to apply for unemployment. It was a response to years of litigation and disputes between Brock and county commissioners over control of excess earned income.

According to Commissioner Frank Halas, a mediation agreement was hammered out Friday, after two days of mediation, but was violated before the weekend had ended.

Commissioners contended on Tuesday that Brock withdrew $6 million from an account just after mediation ended before the weekend.

Commissioners said they would continue mediation if Brock returned that $6 million by the close of business Tuesday.

That didn’t happen.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Brock’s attorney Tom Grady, who is also a state representative from Naples to the Florida Legislature, said there was an agreement reached Friday but Brock did not remove $6 million after the agreement was signed. He merely transferred it into a different account, as permitted by a Florida Supreme Court decision issued Sept. 9, Grady said.

The way Grady viewed the situation, the county had changed the terms of the mediated agreement, after they exited a closed session with their attorney.

“When they came back from their secret meeting, they announced that they were willing to settle with clerk on terms agreed upon provided clerk meets new terms. The clerk could not meet those new terms. As a result, the settlement was rejected by the county,” Grady said Wednesday afternoon.

In a prepared statement, County Manager Jim Mudd said this:

“It is regrettable that the clerk has put his organization in this position. He knows precisely why the board’s offer to provide $5.2 million in property tax dollars to help him fund his... 2010 budget was not finalized,” Mudd said.

“Having reduced our own work force by more than 20 percent (450 positions) over the last two years, including 58 layoffs, I understand the anxiety this type of action creates. Unfortunately, there is pain being felt in businesses all across America and local government is not immune from the effects of this severe economic downturn.”

The settlement agreement was mediated by former Florida Supreme Court Judge Arthur England.

It called for the county to adequately fund Brock’s operation — including offices and employees — with $5.27 million.

The parties headed into mediation after many years of litigation, and a showdown at the July 28 commission budget meeting.

Brock told commissioners he needs $6.1 million for the upcoming year, while County Manager Jim Mudd budgeted a tentative $3.5 million for Brock’s operation.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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