City taxpayers pay to defend city manager against Andrews

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By Jeff M. Hardison

By a unanimous vote on Feb. 11, the Chiefland City Commission agreed to fund the defense of City Manager Grady Hartzog Sr. in a lawsuit filed against Hartzog and others by Andy Andrews.

The suit seeks a declaratory ruling from a judge regarding the definition of "residence," in regard to voting rights in Florida. Andrews also sued Levy County Supervisor or Elections Connie Asbell and Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

Andrews claims an office building as his residence, so that he can vote in Chiefland city elections. State Attorney Bill Cervone reviewed a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report of 11 people who allegedly committed voter fraud. Part of the outcome of Cervone's not prosecuting Andrews or any others is that Andrews sued the state, county and city leaders.

Andrews wants to keep voting in city elections and he believes he should be allowed to do so.

Unfortunately for the city, Andrews' lawsuit is non-monetary. Therefore, the city's liability insurance will not pay lawyer fees, Hartzog said. Also, the non-monetary defense limit of the city's public official insurance does not apply in this case due to more than one defendant being named in the suit, Hartzog said.

A written response to Andrews' suit must be filed by Feb. 19, Hartzog said.

City Attorney Norm Fugate was approved for payment to represent Hartzog in this lawsuit. Hartzog is the city clerk and local supervisor of elections for city election, Fugate said.

"I don't know what direction the lawsuit will go," Fugate said. "It depends on all the parties in the lawsuit ... how complex of a lawsuit Mr. Andrews anticipates it being."

Fugate said the appropriate response in the past has been that it is up to the voter to assure he or she is authorized to vote in a particular election. The voter swears to his or her eligibility to vote when he or she registers to vote.

City Commissioner J. Rollin Hudson Jr. asked about the city paying for Hartzog's defense if this case "goes all the way to the Supreme Court."

Fugate said the liability insurance carried by the city relates to the award of monetary damages against any city official. If the nature of this lawsuit had been where Andrews could have sought money, Fugate said, then the city's insurance would cover its attorney fees. No answer was given to Hudson's question about how much taxpayer money would be spent to defend the city manager from Andrews' suit.