City Councilman Ed Danko did not break the law or create a hostile work environment when he spoke "aggressively" to city staff members, according to an investigation conducted by a labor law firm hired by the city.
A report by the firm's investigator refers to Danko's behavior toward staff on specific instances as "rude" and "unpleasant," but not illegal. Still, the Investigative Executive Summary report concludes with a suggestion that Danko undertake training regarding employee rights, adding that further incidents could create liability problems for the city.
"Clearly, I’ve been vindicated. And obviously, it was nothing more than a political hatchet job that was conducted during an election. Politics as usual."
— ED DANKO, city councilman
"The city is now on notice with regards to Danko's conduct, and further incidents involving City employees couple create liability for the city," it states.
Danko called the investigation politically motivated.
"Clearly, I’ve been vindicated," Danko said. "And obviously, it was nothing more than a political hatchet job that was conducted during an election. Politics as usual."
The investigation had been initiated under former City Manager Matt Morton's administration by mid-March of 2021. Former Mayor Milissa Holland and Morton resigned in May. The investigation was set aside until the city, under the leadership of Interim City Manager Denise Bevan, contracted with Allen Norton & Blue P.A.'s Winter Park branch to complete it, paying $12,347.50.
In a written statement provided to Allen Norton & Blue attorney Shannon Kelly, who handled the investigation, Danko wrote that he believed the complaints were an attempt by Morton to influence the mayoral race "by launching this political hit job" against Danko because Danko was an advisor to mayoral candidate Alan Lowe.
Kelly investigated three allegations concerning Danko's conduct — that he'd created a hostile work environment, violated the City Charter by interfering with staff duties, and engaged in retaliation — and found that his behavior had not met the legal threshold for any of them.
"The city is now on notice with regards to Danko's conduct, and further incidents involving City employees couple create liability for the city," the report states.
Creation of a hostile work environment would require that Danko was mistreating employees based on a protected characteristic. But, Kelly wrote, "It did not appear Danko targeted employees due to any legally protected status, such as gender or race," and the incidents "were not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment."
An allegation that Danko had interfered with the duties of city staff in violation of the City Charter by "aggressively" questioning City Clerk Virginia Smith about council proclamations was also unfounded, the firm found: Danko's exchange with Smith was "arguably for the purpose of 'inquiry and information,'" and council members are permitted to speak with staff for those reasons.
Danko was accused of retaliation because he'd told Bevan to close out the complaints against him without an investigation, and had called for her termination during a July 6 City Council meeting after she declined to do so.
His actions did not constitute retaliation under Title VII, Kelly wrote, but "did likely constitute retaliation under City Policy 3.04(Q)."
"If it was 'likely' enough, she should have charged me," Danko said. "She didn’t."
Kelly's report stated that Danko appeared to fail to recognize the importance of investigating employee complaints, the potential liability to the city if it does not do so, and the legal protections against retaliation afforded to complainants.
"For these reasons, my recommendation would be that Danko undergo training in this regard," the report states.
Palm Coast Public Information and Engagement Director Brittany Kershaw noted that training is recommended, not required, and that Mayor David Alfin had said at a recent council meeting that all councilmen could benefit from training.
"I would invite all City Council members to accept an invitation for additional training in how best to work with city staff," Alfin said at the council's Nov. 16 meeting. "And I know I, for one, will accept such an invitation: I think we can always use more training in that light."
Staff members are seeking out training for the council based on that request, Kershaw said.