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Former City Manager Sues Panama City Beach Following Abrupt Firing

Man in dark suit with red tie
City of Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach hired City Manager Tony O'Rourke in January 2020. He was abruptly fired in February 2021.

Panama City Beach’s former city manager is taking the town to court after his abrupt firing in February.

Tony O’Rourke’s suit claims he was fired after raising concerns about a possible misuse of public funds.

It’s the third lawsuit brought by former employees in the past year. The former city clerk has also filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city. And five past and current employees have recently filed a lawsuit, alleging racial discrimination.

Court records show O’Rourke was fired February 11 — one day after he wrote a letter to the mayor and City Council members, notifying them that the city had paid to build a playground on privately-owned property.

O’Rourke also expressed concern that the former mayor’s son lived next to the park when it was constructed on the city’s dime without the council’s approval.

O’Rourke’s memo triggered an internal investigation. The city hired a legal firm, Holland & Knight, that found past city officials hadn’t broken the law because the privately-owned park is free and open to the public.

The firm didn’t investigate whether O’Rourke’s firing had anything to do with his letter to the council.

The lawsuit also alleges O'Rourke notified the council that he and other city employees were cooperating with an ongoing federal investigation into suspected public corruption across Bay County. In August, Panama City Beach was subpoenaed for all text messages, emails and phone logs between several city officials and a local contractor dating back five years.

City officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.