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‘He failed:’ Report hammers suspended Mount Dora manager as city weighs termination

MOUNT DORA, Fla. — Mount Dora city council members have one week left before they will have to decide whether their suspended city manager should be fired – joining the recently departed de facto assistant city manager in exiting a city hall that was beset by low morale and infighting.

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A 62-page investigation report released in January hammered Patrick Comiskey for a range of maneuvers he made – or failed to make – during his tenure at the helm of the city that ranged from embarrassing staff to potentially putting residents’ safety at risk.

Much of the report focused on Comiskey’s apparent determination to push aside staff members who threatened either himself or his assistant, Merry Lovern, who wielded unusual power within city hall. The investigator, labor attorney Lindsay Greene, said the two had a system of protecting one another at the expense of others who worked for the city.

The biggest finding was that Comiskey sidelined his interim human resources director, who was tasked by the City Council to investigate his behavior and attempted to investigate Lovern. He denied her promotion to permanent director, seized control of all full-time hiring positions and prohibited her from launching internal investigations, both apparent violations of the city charter.

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At the same time, department heads complained that Comiskey slow-walked hiring and transfer decisions for departments except the library, which Lovern had a connection to. One department head said he granted a raise without justification.

At one point, the report said the police department was 25% vacant because of Comiskey’s failure to fill positions.

Comiskey was accused of further meddling in police and fire department affairs, including attempting to shift personnel and equipment on trucks without any experience in the fire department and prohibiting police outreach to the needy during the holidays, which is tradition for many agencies.

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He also intervened in police planning for an abortion-related protest in the city without disclosing that his wife was involved in organizing the protest, the report said, calling it a “gross dereliction of duty.”

Finally, interviews with city employees revealed Comiskey often failed to respond to emails, including inquiries from the mayor, went MIA during crucial moments like major crimes and skipped, fell asleep during or walked out of meetings without explanation, causing embarrassment and rescheduling.

Comiskey did not acknowledge or answer a message requesting a response to the allegations Tuesday. In the report, he denied, downplayed or denied knowledge of many of the accusations made against him while admitting to several, such as not responding to the mayor.

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Mt. Dora’s leaders declined to comment on the report Tuesday, but staff confirmed Lovern resigned in January after being accused of threatening employees with physical harm and admitted to illegally recording at least one phone call with a member of the public. They said Lovern was not being investigated by the police department for the illegal recording, which is a third-degree felony in Florida.

Lovern also did not respond to a request for comment.

Comiskey remains suspended without pay pending a “name clearing” hearing on Feb. 20, when he will have an opportunity to defend himself and potentially save his job.

Council members can fire Comiskey without cause. The attorney determined if he is terminated, the city will not have to pay severance.

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