Getting fired from a job is never fun, and research shows that the way employers lay off employees can leave a lasting and negative impression on them. According to the 2015 Employee Branding Study by CareerArc, 38% of laid-off or fired employees said they have left negative reviews of their former employers.
But there are some cases where an employee is justified in feeling bitter after being fired. The man is the following story was fired after he wouldn’t go along with covering up the city’s financial problems. This doesn’t appear to be the case of a disgruntled employee, but instead, one that involves corruption, whistleblowing, and hush money.
North Miami Employee
A North Miami employee has filed a complaint after being fired for whistleblowing. According to Attorney William R. Amlong, Terry Henley was offered “hush-money” to go quietly away as City Manager Larry Spring and Deputy Manager Arthur Sorey pushed through what appeared to be a $70 million balanced budget. “But one that really conceals $7 million to $20 million in deficits,” said Armlong.
A letter describes a series of events that began on August 27, 2017, when Henley, the Assistant Budget Director at the time, alerted Sorey to the city’s financial situation. Henley was reportedly ignored, so he mentioned it again on June 13, 2018, of a $22 million deficit in the development of the FY 19 Preliminary Budget.” He again was ignored.
To build the case, Amlong highlighted how Spring and Sorey had been taking money from the city’s “water plant revenue and stormwater funds to plug the gaps in the budget.” VotersOpinion wrote that this was similar to the use of restricted funds that occurred at the City of Miami during Spring’s tenure as its Chief Financial Officer. This gave the rise to the city being hit with a $1 million securities fraud judgment by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
By summer 2018, Sorey (pictured above) seemed to be annoyed that Henley kept harping on the fraudulent proposed budget. In response, he told Henley that if any problems arose, he would be “the fall guy on this one.” Still, Henley again tried to alert Spring and Sorey that “the budget called for spending $11,056,405 that the city did not have, on August 9, 2018.
Henley alerted Spring that there was still a $4.9 million deficit and Spring fired back at Henley telling him “to free up $3 million in the unallocated reserve to use for such general-fund purposes as payroll.” VotersOpinion has many times exposed that this “unallocated reserve” was set up for non-existent employee positions that were created and budgeted for, but never filed.
Resident Budget Watchers were the ones who complained about this matter saying that one such imaginary position has been on the books for three years, and the funds budgeted for that position have been used to cover shortfalls in previous fraudulent budgets. Amlong claimed that his client was “fired so shortly after he vehemently objected to the cowboy-style budgeting approach embraced by … Spring and Sorey.”
A Winning Whistleblower Case
Amlong also stressed that Henley’s firing “for incompetence is inconsistent with his record of performance over five years of holding progressively more responsible positions with the City.” Henley is demanding to be reinstated with back pay and attorneys’ fees and if the city refuses, his lawyer will “move immediately to Circuit Court” since this is “a winning whistleblower case.”
Whistleblower Protection Act
Being that Henley can be classified as a whistleblower, he is protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act. The Act of 1989 is a law that protects employees from workplace retaliation, meaning that an employer cannot take any “adverse action” against workers. These actions include firing or laying off, demoting, blacklisting, intimidation/harassment, making threats, reducing pay or hours, etc.
In a statement, City Attorney Jeff Cazeau said that while the allegations presented in the letter will lead to an investigation, this appeared to be a case of a “disgruntled ex-employee attempting to save his job.” The letter was filed by Amlong with North Miami on his client’s behalf on September 21, 2018.
In one of his points, Henley said that the city received a $2 million advance payment for a 99-year lease for Costco to use city property. According to Henley, that revenue was listed on two budgets from 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, despite being a one-time payment. “I don’t know that to necessarily be correct,” Spring told the Miami Herald. “We are having our internal auditor review the internal budget assumptions.”
Falsely Inflating Revenues
This case seems all too familiar to a situation in 2013. The SEC charged the city of Miami and the city’s former budget director, Michael Boudreaux, with securities fraud. Boudreaux misrepresented the city’s finances to bond investors after they were found to have used internal funds transfers to “mask” growing deficits and falsely inflate revenues.
At the time, director of the SEC’s Miami regional office released a statement saying: “Miami cannot continue to play shell games with its finances. Investors and the markets deserve complete transparency in assessing the city’s municipal bond offerings.” The result was that a federal jury found that the city had defrauded bondholders and the city ultimately agreed to pay $1 million to settle the case.
During that time, Spring served as Miami’s CFO and he was investigated as part of the probe but was never charged. Now, Henley is accusing Spring and Sorey of playing similar games with the budget of North Miami. “Look for the name Boudreaux and replace it with Spring. Look for Miami and substitute North Miami. Because it’s pretty much the same thing,” Amlong said.
Spring still denies Henley’s claims although he says he helped the SEC with its investigation. Still, he maintains that what happened in the city of Miami is irrelevant to Henley’s firing. “I think that was thrown in there to create sensationalism,” Spring said. Regarding the current budget, Spring said, “We are going to open our books to our auditors.”
According to Amlong, the morning after the budget passed as part of a separation agreement presented to his client, Henley was offered “hush money.” The agreement, which would have included four weeks of paid time, contained a clause stating: “EMPLOYEE agrees that he will not criticize, denigrate, or disparage CITY… To that end, EMPLOYEE will not make any comments or statements to the press.”
On the day he was let go, Henley recalled that after five years of working at the company, his computer was locked and seven police officers escorted him out. Amlong told the Biscayne Times (BT), “What they need to do is unfire Terry Henley and visit the budget with real numbers. … This will be a whistleblower suit if they don’t put him back. I should hope that the city, which is already in debt, doesn’t incur a whole lot more attorney’s fees to keep this guy out of work.”
In a September 24, 2018 letter to the city council, Spring fought back claiming that repeated audits revealed “ZERO findings of malfeasance on my part or that of my staff.” He again welcomed an external audit and harshly attacked Henley’s job performance. City Commissioner Scott Galvin only learned of the accusation after Amlong distributed the letter to residents, who then called their representatives.
In an email to BT, Galvin said, “Henley’s accusations are serious and I will treat them that way. I support bringing in an independent auditor to verify the budget as we know it. Certainly, Spring has the right to counter Henley, and Henley has the right to plead his case to the Personnel Board.”
Spreading Around Town
Numerous copies of Amlong’s letter and documents spread across the town shortly after the letters were sent and they were posted to Facebook. Merrett R. Stierheim, Florida’s dean of public administrators said, “The governor ought to act now” by declaring a fiscal emergency. He also added that he doesn’t wish to get involved.
Taking A Close Look At Audits
Stierheim urges a close look at the last two years of North Miami’s external audits, in particular, the “material defects” and “audit exceptions. … That is the first step I would take to correct North Miami’s problem, or at least get a handle on it.”