Deltona settles lawsuit filed by former interim City Manager

The city has dealt with a revolving door of leaders, multiple lawsuits and complaints.

The city of Deltona has paid $45,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by its former interim City Manager, who sued the city when he said he didn’t get the permanent job because he is Black.

With no discussion, the City Commission unanimously approved the settlement, which gives $26,000 to former interim City Manager Marc-Antonie Cooper and the rest to Cooper’s attorney, the City Attorney said at a recent meeting.

For the Volusia County city, the City Manager position has been a thorn in its side. The city has dealt with a revolving door of leaders, multiple lawsuits and complaints.

“The amount of City Managers we’ve had over the years and the amount of turnover we’ve had … Deltona is not an easy place for a Manager,” said Mayor Heidi Herzberg, noting the position also requires living in Deltona which also made it challenging to find someone.

Embattled City Manager Jane Shang had a vote of no confidence when she resigned in 2020, taking a $286,881 severance package with her, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

That set up Cooper — the first African-American Deputy City Manager in the community’s history — to temporarily step in for Shang’s role. Cooper served as the interim City Manager, but Cooper said city leaders told him he would not get the permanent job and he was eventually demoted to a customer service manager in the water department, according to his federal lawsuit filed last year in the U.S. District Court’s Orlando division.

Cooper quit last year and is now the City Manager in Forest Park outside Atlanta. He declined to comment this week.

Instead of choosing Cooper, the city promoted public works director John Peters III to acting City Manager last year.

Peters had been under investigation last year for making crude comments. He made an incest joke about West Virginia, made fun of a male co-worker’s pink shirt and used graphic sexual terms when speaking with public employees, according to an investigation report released to Florida Politics last year.

Peters had clashed with Richard Adams, Deltona’s then-human resource director. Adams said he was fired in retaliation after he told Peters he was investigating him for inappropriate and discriminatory comments, according to a pending lawsuit Adams filed against the city.

City Commission members have shown their support for Peters, who has gotten good job reviews. However, they are already thinking about how they will replace him. Peters is an acting City Manager because he doesn’t live within the city limits as required, Herzberg said.

“Mr. Peters is acting. Everyone knows he’s not the Manager because he doesn’t live in the city,” Herzberg said, praising him for not trying to rent a room just to get a local address. “He’s being straight-up and open about the situation here.”

At the same May meeting where they approved Cooper’s settlement, the Commission amended Peters’ contract to add 20 weeks of severance pay. The News-Journal reported that amounts to approximately $63,000. A handful of people spoke against the severance before the Commission’s vote, pointing out that amount is more than some Deltona residents earn in an entire year.

“A severance is a foreign thing for a lot of us in the private sector,” Herzberg said. “But in the public sector, and in long-term jobs, there’s a severance package. We may not always agree with it and over time we’ve learned to modify it.”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


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