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High-level city department head paid to stay home

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA- After sixteen years of service to the City of St. Augustine, Building and Zoning Director Mark Knight is being paid his $98,875.42 annual salary, plus benefits, to stay home. In St. Johns County, which includes St. Augustine, the average annual salary is about $ 35,000.

This week, citizen watchdogs in St. Augustine began following this story since it was released by local Historic City News. Ironically, Knight has not been employed by contract since he came to work on April 17, 1998. But, he is under a very strict, written contract now.

Watchdog Wire – Florida Editor Michael Gold obtained copies of the seven-page “Retirement Agreement and General Release” between Knight and the City of St. Augustine that lays out the terms under which Knight will continue, until August 19, 2014, to collect his regular check and all benefits – even though he has effectively been relieved of his authority and responsibilities as of last Wednesday.

In addition to the three month’s salary, and all benefits afforded other full time employees, Knight receives payment of a lump sum accrued, but unused, sick and vacation time, and the promise of a job reference indicating his “meritorious job service”.

Knight is still a young man, only 49-years-old– not an age you normally associate with retirement. But, Gold learned from an inspection of publicly available information, that the day before Knight’s sweetheart deal comes to an end, August 18, 2014, Knight celebrates his 50th birthday — a very significant date with respect to the City of St. Augustine and their pension plan participants. So long as Knight has reached his 50th birthday, he may start receiving monthly pension benefits immediately, and he will.

The question still to be answered is, why? Why are taxpayers paying a department head to stay home? And, if Knight wanted to collect the pension he has earned, why is he leaving now, and not three months from now, when he could have avoided any scrutiny or controversy over the terms of his departure?

These circumstances suggest the termination was not voluntary for Knight. As a department head, it would be City Manager John Regan’s place to terminate Knight. That leads us to another question: what? If Knight was terminated, what exactly did he do that is bad enough to send him home for three months with pay, but not bad enough to terminate him, without pay, effective immediately?

The 13,000 taxpayers in the City of St. Augustine need to know what the Director of Planning and Building did that warranted his termination after 16-years of service, and what does Knight know that made it necessary to bribe him with a golden parachute “retirement” before it is fully earned.

Michael Gold

As the Florida editor for Watchdog Wire, my goal is to work with other citizen journalists, like you, to help compensate for the lack of mainstream news reporting to expose waste, fraud and abuse that exists in government. My colleagues at Franklin Center, and peers in the Citizen Watchdog movement, share a belief that government transparency and accountability is not a conservative or liberal idea - it is an American idea. A free flow of information is essential to maintaining our free republic, and that starts with a free press -- and that starts with you.

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Categories: Budget and Finance, Government Transparency, Must Read, News, Policy, Taxes
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