Hallandale Beach is suing the son-in-law of ex-City Manager Mike Good for failing to repay the city thousands of dollars in tuition reimbursements he received during Good’s tenure.
Douglas Grant Baber, 37, allegedly did not repay the money he owed the city even though records show he nearly doubled his salary to $65,000 a year during his five years as a city employee and walked away with a $20,000 gross pension payout when he quit nearly two years ago.
Baber’s immediate boss at Hallandale Beach, Human Resources Director George Amiraian, was upset with his former colleague, whom he once trusted.
“He reneged on us,” Amiraian said. “He was my own employee; he did it to me. It’s unfortunate but we need to get the money back.”
But Hallandale Beach may have waited too long.
The city attorney’s office sued Baber in Broward County Court on Jan. 9. One week before, however, Baber filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy in federal court in Fort Lauderdale seeking a discharge of debts his lawyer estimated total between $500,000 and $1 million.
That includes the $6,453.68 in tuition reimbursements that Hallandale Beach is now suing to get back. The bankruptcy petition calls it an “unsecured, nonpriority claim.”
The bankruptcy action has put a legal hold on the city’s claim.
“I think the way this is going…[the city] is not getting anything,” said Boca Raton attorney Stephen Orchard, Baber’s attorney.
Baber’s financial problems, Orchard said, stem from personal guarantees he put up during his financial involvement with Wowies, a sports restaurant in Boca Raton.
City Manager Renee Miller said she has no idea why the city did not pursue the outstanding debt two years ago when Baber resigned his $65,000-a-year city job as a personnel analyst. But she said the city has an obligation to seek reimbursement in court even though it might never collect.
“He entered into an agreement and …has not paid his debt,” said Miller, who became city manager in June.
Baber, of Deerfield Beach, is today a personnel analyst for Boca Raton. He declined to comment.
Hallandale Beach Human Resources Director Amiraian was upset with his former colleague. “He promised us he would pay us back as soon as he got his pension money,” he said. “We trusted that.”
But after Baber left and the city contacted him about the payback, Amiraian said Baber told city officials he had used the pension payout money for “business.”
The city has given other employees who owed it money time to repay after leaving city employment and all have paid back, Amiraian said.
The city’s complaint charges that Baber, who began working for the city on January 23, 2006, violated the city’s tuition reimbursement policy.
The policy states: “If an employee voluntarily terminates employment with the city within two years following completion of any educational course for which he received a refund, then the amount of the tuition refund paid by the city shall be repaid by such employee to the city immediately.”
Baber applied for tuition reimbursements six times between May 2009 and March 2010 for courses he took online toward a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia Southern University. He was awarded a degree in June, 2010, according to city documents.
Baber resigned from the city on February 22, 2011 – less than two years after receiving tuition reimbursements of $8,400 between August 2009 and June 2010, according to the city’s lawsuit.
The city said Baber was contacted about paying up, and that he agreed to do so. About $300 was withheld from his final paycheck.
The following May, Baber collected $19,647.49 from his city Professional Management Retirement Plan account. City officials said that the law blocked them from tapping into that pension payout for repayment.
Baber repaid about $2,000 but eventually stopped making payments.
The city is seeking to recover the balance, interest and its attorney’s fees and costs. The case is before Judge Peter Skolnik.
Baber rose steadily during his father-in-law’s tenure as city manager.
In January 2006, he began working as a $38,000-a-year administrative analyst in the city’s Development Services Department.
In February 2007, he was promoted to personnel analyst in Human Resources with a salary of $47,715.
City records show that during the same month Baber was placed in the lucrative Professional Management Retirement Plan, even though the city had closed the controversial plan to new employees as of January 1, 2007.
In January 2008, Baber’s salary increased again to $58,406 –a 53% hike in two years. Amiraian said that part of the increase for Baber resulted from city manager Good deciding to expand the duties of existing HR personnel rather than adding more employees.
Baber joined Good’s family when he married city manager’s daughter, Lisa Anne, on March 31, 2007.
Good worked for the city in various positions for 25 years. He served as city manager from 2002 until his dismissal by city commissioners in June 2010 for excessive absences and other reasons. Good did not return phone messages seeking comment.