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Whistleblower says he Poisoned Trees

September 8th, 2011 by Anna Laura Rehwinkel

He worked for Florida’s largest billboard company. His job, he says, poisoning trees that block signs. Robert Barnhart was let go last month. Yesterday he filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Federal Court. Whitney Ray brings us an exclusive interview with the former Lamar employee from our Tallahassee bureau.

This tree on Capital Circle near Tom Brown Park in Tallahassee is dying because Robert Barnhart poisoned it. According to a complaint he filed in federal court a supervisor at his job with Lamar Advertising, told him to poison trees blocking billboards.

“Right above that branch is where we drilled the hole,” said Barnhart.

Barnhart says he climbed the tree, drilled a hole above this branch and poured in poison.

“It’s definitely dying. It’s a result of the chemical. And the reason why it was poisoned is because it’s in the way of the billboard,” said Barnhart.

This elm should look the tree right next to it, green and full of life, but all of the leaves have fallen off and pieces of bark are all along the ground and pretty soon the city will come chop it down.

Barnhart filed a lawsuit against Lamar in Federal Court Wednesday. The suit claims, Barnhart was given a machete, told to hack at the root system, then pour poison on the cut.

“I was drove around the day before and showed the locations to poison and told, come in an unmarked truck, don’t wear a Lamar logo, wear dust mask and kitchen gloves and poison the trees,” said Barnhart.

Killing large trees without a permit is a felony. In this written complain Barnhart told the company he want nothing to do with killing trees. The lawsuit claims he was let go after filing the complaint. His Attorney Steve Andrews says Lamar was trying to quiet Barnhart.

“No one wants a whistleblower working for them in a big corporation,” said Andrews.

Barnhart was given immunity by the state attorney. He’s suing Lamar for his old job back plus damages. Lamar says the claims are false and calls Barnhart a disgruntled worker.

Lamar Advertising didn’t have anyone in Tallahassee today to speak oncamera about the lawsuit, but we were able to reach Barnhart’s former boss Danny Funderburgh on the phone. Funderburgh says he never received a complaint from Barnhart and he’s still actually on the payroll. As for their policy regarding trees that block signs, Funderburgh said “we do not have a policy to kill trees or remove any trees. Lamar Advertising follows city and state regulations.”

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