Davie’s town attorney will keep his job while the Town Council considers setting up an in-house legal department or hiring a private legal firm.
Council member Bryan Caletka brought a motion to terminate town attorney John Rayson at Wednesday night’s Town Council meeting, Feb. 20, but it did not receive a second.
“He gives different opinions to different members of council,” Caletka said at the meeting. “He’s given bad opinions. Mediocre at best describes the legal services that are being provided by the attorney.”
Caletka said he doesn’t trust Rayson’s legal advice and cannot work with him, and that it’s affecting the town.
Mayor Judy Paul and council member Susan Starkey have also criticized Rayson’s performance.
In evaluation forms completed in February, Paul gave Rayson’s performance an overall score of three out of five for “meets expectations,” but wrote in a comment that he should not interject personal opinion when asked for legal advice. Starkey criticized him for not providing Town Council members with training on legal matters like Florida’s open records laws.
Caletka wrote, “He will tell a council member an opinion and in less than an hour communicate the complete opposite in a Town of Davie Council meeting. It is odd that opinions change so quickly, yet the law does not.”
Rayson remained silent while the council discussed his performance.
But in a letter submitted to the council, he summarized his achievements since his 2007 appointment, listing cases he’d settled and his creation of a pre-trial diversion program, which he wrote saves the town money in public defender fees.
“I am honored to be the Davie Town Attorney,” he wrote. “I enjoy the work and look forward to continuing the successful, productive provision of legal services to the Town.”
Vice Mayor Marlon Luis, who gave Rayson the highest evaluation score possible, a five out of five, called Caletka’s criticisms political.
Rayson’s pre-trial diversion program had brought the town money, said Luis, and within six months of becoming town attorney, Rayson had settled a number of backlogged cases.
“I’m sorry to sit up here and listen to this man disparaged like this,” said Luis. “To say he’s done a bad job, that’s really disheartening, and I wish we’d just drop this whole thing.”
Luis said Rayson was available around the clock to provide legal advice for the town, and that if a council member called him when he was busy or on the phone with someone else, he’d give them a callback time they could set their watch by.
Rayson also received a positive evaluation from council member Caryl Hattan, who wrote that his work served the town and his diversion program brought in money.
Mayor Paul said she had spoken with Rayson about the need to separate his legal opinion from his personal one, but disagreed with Caletka’s statement that the attorney’s performance was mediocre.
“I believe if somebody meets expectations, they’re not mediocre. They’re meeting expectations,” she said.
The town was also on the verge of retaining an in-house attorney, said Paul, and it might be more costly to terminate Rayson than to keep him on as Davie makes the transition.
Rayson is paid $185 per hour, said Davie spokesman Phillip Holste, and his pay in 2012 totaled $274,000.
His contract does not have a severance clause, said Holste, which allows the Town Council to terminate his services at any time.
Starkey said an in-house attorney would cost the town money for staff, benefits and overhead, and shouldn’t be the only option considered. Other municipalities have had success with private law firms, she said, and Davie should consider hiring one.