CHIPLEY — The Washington County Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Monday to pay a $150,000 settlement in a lawsuit between the county and Heather Finch, the county’s former Human Resources director.
The board held a special meeting and executive session on to discuss the litigation, and met in closed session for about 40 minutes. In the executive session were the county commissioners, County Attorney Jeff Goodman, plaintiff’s attorney John Dickinson and a court reporter.
According to the terms of the settlement, the county will pay $150,000 to Broad and Cassel Trust Account on or before Dec. 27. The county will also pay all mediation costs and will accept a letter of resignation from Finch and her status in the county’s computer system will be changed from terminated to resigned.
The Washington County News obtained a copy of the settlement on Friday after submitting a request for public documents under the state Sunshine Law.
In February, Finch was fired from her position as county HR director for “grossly negligent” behavior, according to a letter written by then-county manager Steve Joyner. According to the letter, Finch publically discussed sensitive and privileged employment situations involving county staff and employees and abused her access to certain county information and files in providing that information for noncounty-related purposes.
Finch filed a charge of discrimination with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the settlement.
After the executive session, Goodman recommended the board accent the terms of the settlement. Commissioner Charles Brock voted against accepting the settlement, but the remaining board members voted in favor of the settlement.
In exchange for the settlement and the change of discharge status, Finch releases the county from any future claims and is “entitled to no payments or other consideration of any kind from the county,” according to the settlement.
Finch and her attorneys are also responsible for the tax payments and filings on the settlement.
According to the settlement, Finch and the county agree that they have entered into the agreement in compromise of a disputed claim and that entry into the agreement is not an admission of any liability or wrongdoing on the part of the county.
Finch also voluntarily agrees to refrain from working for the county in any paid capacity in the future.
In other business, the board also unanimously approved a $750 per month county contract with Dr. Samuel Ward, who is the physician of record for the county Emergency Medical Services.
County Coordinator David Corbin explained that the EMS has to have a physician behind their services, and Dr. Ward has served in that capacity for years.
“According to the contract, he is paid the $750 a month, and if he is ever needed above and beyond that he is paid $50 an hour,” said Commissioner Todd Abbott. “I don’t know that he has ever been needed beyond his regular contract.”
“Do we ever look to see if anyone else would want this contract, or do we just give it to him automatically every year?” Commissioner Lynn Gothard asked.
“I don’t think anyone else would work for that cheap,” Commissioner Joel Pate said, jokingly.
Brock noted that Dr. Ward is also Chief of Staff for Northwest Florida Community Hospital.
“Once again we’re coming to the board and only have had something for two minutes and are having to vote on it,” Gothard said.
“This is something that should have been handled in November,” Abbott said.
Corbin said he had only received notice of the contract that morning, just prior to the board’s special meeting.
“I will send a memo to all staff informing them that in the future, if something isn’t turned in on time, it won’t be added to the agenda,” Corbin said.