Report: Fired Gainesville HR Director broke contract by failing to move to city

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Gainesville Human Resources Director Eugenia Allen-Mercado broke her employment contract with the city by failing to establish permanent residence here, a City Auditor's Office report says.

The report was released Thursday, hours after CBS4 News first reported Allen-Mercado was no longer employed by the city. A spokesman later confirmed Allen-Mercado was fired.

The report says they started investigating Allen-Mercado after the InTouch Hotline first received a complaint about her on May 30 and another on June 13. The people who made the complaints knew Allen-Mercado received relocation funds and temporary rent with the requirement that she would set up a permanent residence in Gainesville after she was hired in January of 2017 at a salary of $120,000 a year.

One complainant said she failed to update her address in the HR system and parked in front of the condos on NE 3rd Street to make it look like she still lived in a condo nearby. The other complainant said she was in fact commuting back and forth to Jacksonville every day.

The report confirmed Allen-Mercado was paid $18,023.60 for relocation and temporary living expenses but never became a permanent resident. It says although she rented a condo near City Hall for 11 months she simultaneously claimed homestead exemption in Duval County, which means you must own and occupy your home as of Jan. 1. The report says she told the auditor she was living at her brother's house in unincorporated Alachua County. It says she failed to mention that she and her husband signed a one-year lease for a large home in Clay County.

The auditor asked her if she told the city manager she had moved and she responded, "No, I don't tell him my business," according to the report.

The report also confirmed that she failed to follow annual reminders ensuring employees keep their address and telephone numbers up to date.

It says Allen-Mercado denied parking at the condos to try and deceive the city, but instead said she parked there as a convenience.

The auditor says Allen-Mercado was making $121,590 at the time of the complaints.

The report says Allen-Mercado is intimately familiar with hiring requirements and made no effort to meet the residency requirements in her contract.

The report recommended City Manager Anthony Lyons "hold Eugenia Allen-Mercado accountable for her actions described in the allegations above."

It also recommended Lyons direct the finance department to create a new financial policy requiring all reimbursements to be made only after proof of actual expenditures are submitted.

Finally, it recommended Lyons to verify compliance with residency rules at the six-month and one-year mark of employment.

Assistant HR Director Lisa Jefferson has been appointed acting HR director by the city manager.

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