Faced with a resign or be fired ultimatum, Wilton Manors Police Richard E. Perez, 58, opted to resign. Under an agreement Perez reached with the city, his resignation takes effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19.
The city will pay him $24,169.81 in severance, along with a $1,856.71 contribution towards his state retirement pension.
The Wilton Manors City Commission approved the settlement at its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12.
Perez earned an annual salary of $115,544 as police chief. He was hired in 2006 after retiring from the Fort Lauderdale police department after 24 years, becoming the first Hispanic chief in Wilton Manors’ 63-year history.
Perez could not be reached for comment.
The agreement prohibits him from making unfavorable comments about the city and he is barred from suing.
Perez began serving a 30-day suspension without pay on Sept. 20 for circulating racist emails from the police department –a story first published in a South Florida Times report.
But his tenure as chief of the 46-member police department he has led since 2006 ended after an internal city investigation found he may have violated city vacation leave policies by failing to submit the required forms when he took vacation and other time off from work.
City Manager Joseph Gallegos began investigating that issue in August. Exactly how far back the investigation went has not been clarified. Preliminary findings reportedly indicate the equivalent of more than $9,000 in time off might have been involved.
Those findings prompted Gallegos to issue his ultimatum to Perez on Monday, Columbus Day.
But, despite the findings, as part of his settlement agreement Perez was allowed to exchange roughly 144 hours of accrued vacation time and roughly 291 hours of sick time for cash. He was paid an average of $55.55 per hour for a total of $24,169.81.
Gallegos did not return calls or respond to questions about why Perez was allowed to cash in leave time as part of his settlement agreement, even though there are suspicions he may have accrued that time improperly.
Perez was already the target of two separate criminal investigations being conducted by the Broward State Attorney’s Office. One is over allegations he perjured himself in a 2007 civil trial. The other relates to allegations that he submitted a false affidavit to the courts in order to fix a traffic ticket issued to a former Wilton Manors city commissioner.
If it is determined he committed a crime related to his job, it could put his state pension in jeopardy.
“Only if a person commits a specific felony, then benefits could be denied,” Lauren Engel, deputy communications director for Florida’s Department of Management Services, said. “Typically how it works is if we get word that an offense has been committed, then we monitor it and a review process begins.”
The South Florida Times reported on Aug. 10 that dozens of racist and otherwise offensive e-mails were circulated from the police department account of Perez and other command staff.
Capt. Dorris Seibert, who is also being investigated over the e-mail scandal and leave time abuse, was selected to replace Perez during his suspension.
Perez’s woes did not end there. He was placed on hiatus from a $32.50 per hour teaching job at Broward College’s Institute of Public Safety, which includes the police academy, the following day over the e-mail scandal.
Also, Gov. Charlie Crist issued an order on Sept. 23 removing Perez from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, which Perez chaired. Perez admitted circulating the e-mails and issued a public apology. But he claimed some of them were used in diversity courses he taught at the police academy.
Linda Wood, dean of the police academy, rejected that claim and permanently removed Perez from the teaching schedule.
Perez, who served as vice-president of the Broward County Chiefs Association, was slated to assume the presidency in January. Executive board members voted to deny him that post at their last meeting.
Elgin Jones may be reached at EJones@SFLTimes.com.