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Palm Coast Monday, Apr. 20, 2020 7 months ago

Former HR director threatens legal action against city of Palm Coast

City manager says HR director's separation agreement was signed without authority. Four days later, he fired her.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Debbie Streichsbier, the city of Palm Coast’s former Human Resources director, is threatening legal action against the city, accusing City Manager Matt Morton of failing to honor a signed separation agreement.

Four days after Streichsbier signed the agreement, Morton fired her, saying the separation agreement was unauthorized and was only signed by the city’s HR department under coercion. Debbie Streischbier, who worked for the city for five years and was promoted to HR director by Morton in June 2019, said nobody had been "coerced" to sign the agreement.

After she was fired, Streischbier emailed the City Council and claimed that the city staff members are often bullied and threatened, and that “morale is at an all-time low,” while “turnover is at an all-time high.”


The email record

In mid-March, after months of unhappiness at work, Streichsbier made a verbal agreement with Morton to step down. She was given a draft of a separation agreement, which afforded her 45 days to “execute it,” or, in other words, to sign it and make it official. Morton told the Palm Coast Observer that he felt like he was trying to do the "decent thing" to propose a separation agreement.

Once she decided to accept the terms, she contacted HR two times to try to set up a time to sign the document.

“They reached out to the City Manager to get a clean copy of the Agreement as he wrote draft on my copy,” Streichsbier wrote in an email to the Palm Coast Observer.

In response to that request for a clean copy, City Clerk Virginia Smith emailed the agreement to both Morton and Wilsey, who is the city’s benefits and risk management coordinator. In the email, sent at 3:40 p.m. March 20, Smith wrote: “Mr. Morton has requested I send this to you. Please forward the attached to Ms. Streichsbier for her execution.” She signed the email, “Virginia on behalf of Mr. Morton.”

Wilsey then emailed Streichsbier, at 4:21 p.m. March 20, saying, “I have printed the agreement for you here.” She drove to City Hall and signed it at about 4:30 p.m., she said. Those emails prove that no one was coerced, Streichsbier said.


Morton’s position

“Debbie coerced him. That is my position.”

MATT MORTON, city manager

Morton, in a phone interview with the Palm Coast Observer, remembers the situation differently. He said the agreement was still intended to be a draft and was never supposed to be executed. He wasn't in the office when Streichsbier came in to sign the document, but he said he heard that Streichsbier “came in unannounced” and insisted that the document be signed. Morton said Streichsbier may have put pressure on Wilsey to sign it because he was her former boss.

“Debbie coerced him,” Morton said. “That is my position.”

On March 24, Morton sent a termination letter to Streichsbier. He said the separation agreement had been executed “without authority being granted … Therefore, the agreement is not enforceable.”

Morton listed reasons for firing her, including “inappropriate display of temper or disrespect.”

Morton declined to comment further for this story because of Streichsbier's threat of legal action. 

A letter sent to the city on April 8 by Streichsbier’s attorney challenges Morton to provide specifics about how Wilsey was “coerced.” The attorney states that Wilsey “certainly had both actual and constructive/apparent authority to enter into the agreement on behalf of the city.”


Employees feel ‘threatened’

Debbie Streichsbier, former HR director

Upset with being fired and not having her agreement honored, Streichsbier wrote to the City Council on April 1, saying that city staff members are not valued by management.

“They are threatened daily to, ‘make it happen or find another job,’” Streichsbier said.

She went on to say that “hundreds of employees” have vented to her since she departed City Hall.

“They are NOT happy,” she wrote to the City Council. “ … We have lost some GREAT employees for what seems to be for no logical reason.”

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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