HOMESTEAD — A former city department head who resigned shortly after it was revealed that he exchanged graphic emails and sexually explicit text messages on his city-issued Blackberry will walk away with nearly $60,000 in severance pay, courtesy of the taxpayers.
Robert Landen, 44, was the director of the Parks & Public Works Department. He was also a reserve police officer. He was suspended on Feb. 18 and was asked to clean out his desk, surrender his police equipment and city identification.
“Mr. Landen’s resignation was accepted, period,” Homestead Acting City Manager Sergio Purrinos wrote in a Feb. 23 email sent to the South Florida Times. “He will be paid $59,598.81 for accrued sick leave and vacation [hours].”
Landen’s suspension followed questions from the newspaper to city officials about the explicit messages.
Purrinos did not disclose exactly how many hours of accumulated time the money that will be paid to Landen represents. City policy allows employees who leave city service in good standing to cash in accrued vacation and sick-leave time that they have not used.
Landen stepped down on Monday, Feb. 22, citing unspecified threats and concern for his safety as well as the safety of his family, according to his resignation letter. The letter did not mention the electronic message controversy.
“Over the past few days, the safety of me and my family has been threatened,” Landen wrote in his Feb. 22 resignation letter. “Due to these threats, I feel it is unsafe and may potentially pose danger to myself and my family if I continue employment with the City of Homestead. For this reason, I regret that I am unable to give a two-week notice.”
Efforts to reach Landen about the specific nature of the alleged threats have been unsuccessful.
When Purrinos accepted the resignation, he did not challenge the threat allegations. He also ended the city’s action on the electronic messages from Landen, which could have resulted in Landen’s termination.
“We have not confirmed such threats, plus workplace violence is simply not tolerated,” Purrinos told the South Florida Times. “Since Mr. Landen is no longer an employee, there will be no further action from me. Now, please let me get back to work.”
Landen was employed with the city of Homestead for nearly 26 years. He earned an annual salary of $106,912. City officials say his resignation followed his request on Friday, Feb. 19 to retire, a day after he was suspended. His retirement takes effect on March 1.
City hall sources say Landen has a clean employment history. Several supporters insist that he is a respected family man in the community, and that he is being unfairly targeted. Purrinos has not said what, if any, action is being taken against other employees who also send and receive explicit text messages and emails.
Records show that Landen was one of the city’s most prolific senders and receivers of emails and text messages.
In one discussion that Landen had with a woman on his city-issued Blackberry on Nov. 27, 2009, he asked, “How was ur [sic] turkey day? Did [sic] get enough breart [sic]?”
The woman, who has not been identified, replied, “My breast could be sucked.”
He responded, “I need to see them.”
That exchange led to an even more graphic discussion in which the woman honored his request to send him photos.
Many of the messages obtained by the South Florida Times are too graphic for publication. The topics include sex toys, masturbation, oral sex and descriptions of sex acts. Other messages included exchanges of photographs.
Landen’s electronic messages were revealed in records compiled by Franklin Investigations, Inc. of North Miami Beach, a firm the city hired to investigate fired former City Manager Mohammad “Mike” Shehadeh.
Investigators concluded that Shehadeh engaged in political activities, visited risqué websites – one of which was described by a city council member as “pornographic” – and sent steamy messages to former Deputy City Manager Johanna Faddis.
Franklin Investigations’ records also contain thousands of emails and text messages from city council members. Sexually explicit messages of other city staff are also included.
The company’s investigation revealed at least one racially derogatory email sent from Landen’s city-issued Blackberry.
“OMG!! [Oh my God] Ur not going to believe this [expletive]!!!,” reads a Nov. 26, 2009 email sent to Landen, which he forwarded to other people, using the Blackberry. “I got a tattoo of a [N-word] on my shoulder, and now my [expletive] arm quit workin [sic]!”
File Photo: Robert Landen