ST. PETE BEACH – Former City Manager Mike Bonfield submitted a proposed termination agreement to city leaders April 23 that will be considered at a special meeting planned for April 30 at 6 p.m.
City Attorney Mike Davis recommended city commissioners put off a vote on Bonfield’s proposal following a review of his contract and state statutes by his firm’s staff.
He said the review would be complete within a week.
According to city ordinances, a city manager has 15 days to request a public hearing on a termination or resign.
Should the city turn down his proposal and there is not a settlement, Bonfield would have the opportunity to request a public hearing through May 7.
Bonfield’s letter read as follows:
“Attached is a proposed separation agreement to terminate my employment as city manager as discussed at the last city commission meeting (April 22). The financial portions of the agreement are consistent with my employment agreement with the exception of the additional accrued sick leave payoff. Although I do not believe there to be any conflicts of state statutes, I am including six weeks of the six months severance pay for similar reasons.
“I fully enjoyed my 12 years working in St. Pete Beach and I am proud of the many things that have been accomplished, none of which would have been possible without the support of the city commission and a dedicated city staff. I fully respect your decision to make a change in leadership and wish you and the community well in all future endeavors. I will not be attending the meeting this evening (April 23) while this matter is being considered. My only interest is to put this matter behind us as quickly as possible and allow both parties to move forward.”
Bonfield asked for permission to retrieve personal items from his office and the opportunity to meet briefly with department heads for a final farewell.
“I would be glad to provide briefing to the acting city manager and will remain available to answer any questions they may have to insure a smooth transition for the organization,” Bonfield concluded.
Davis explained that a termination agreement outlines the terms of the termination. Under terms of the agreement, both parties waive the right to sue each other.
“Rather than taking an action tonight, and rather than holding another hearing tonight, I suggest you schedule another meeting within a week at which point we would have an agreement signed off on by Mr. Bonfield and presented to the commission for approval,” Davis said. “The public would then have the right to speak and be heard after that agreement.”
In the meantime, commissioners were informed that city finance director Elaine Edmunds has accepted the role of interim city manager. An adjustment in her salary will be made to offset the additional hours she will be working.
Mayor Maria Lowe said a replacement for former City Commissioner Jim Parent would also be discussed at the April 30 meeting.
“There is a requirement with a resignation of the commission that within 15 days there has to be a call for a special election, if there is not already an election scheduled within six months,” Lowe said.
Lowe went on to praise Bonfield for his demeanor through the action and explained more in detail why the termination was taking place.
“Mr. Bonfield has shown himself to be a consummate professional,” said Lowe. “He did so last night (April 22) and did so today by sending this email.
“The motion brought about last night was about a change, about bringing a fresh perspective to the department of city manager,” Lowe continued. “Change is never easy. Change is uncomfortable but it doesn’t have to be fearful. We have a remarkable city staff. This city will continue to function and continue to function well. All of the positive momentum that has been set in motion will continue.”
Commissioner Terri Finnerty explained her reason for voting in favor of the termination.
“We need a change in the form of a new direction,” Finnerty said. “We need someone with energy, who is proactive and can really support and encourage our employees. We had some problems with employee morale, which is why we had some turnover. When we get turnover we spend a lot of money for that turnover.”
Commissioner Greg Premer, along with Parent, voted against the termination. Premer said the feedback he has received was against the termination.
“I was not in favor of what transpired last night and especially the way it transpired,” Premer said. “I got a lot of phone calls and emails today and the bulk of them were negative. ‘Something stinks in paradise.’ ‘I don’t like the direction the city is moving.’ Those were the bulk of what I heard.
“I can’t help but think of the movie “Finding Nemo,’” Premer added. “At the end, all the fish in their bags got their way out of the dentist office and got their way into the bay and the movie ended with ‘What are we going to do?’
“That’s where we’re at. We’re a ship without a rudder. We don’t have a city planner. We don’t have a city manager,” Premer said. “I have a feeling this decision was made in haste and I am concerned.”
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher, who represents Pass-a-Grille, said Bonfield’s firing is a way for the city to move forward.
“I will forever be grateful for Mike Bonfield’s service to our city,” said Pletcher. “But it’s time to recollect where we are, where we want to be and where we are now is not in a good place. It’s an opportunity to move forward.
“I know it’s scary and I know it’s tough,” Pletcher added. “It is for all of us as well. We’re representing you and we’re doing the best job we can in making decisions to move the city forward.”
In a surprise move April 22, Lowe, Finnerty and Pletcher passed a preliminary motion to terminate Bonfield’s contract.
Parent and Premer voted against the motion. Later in the evening Parent resigned his commission seat without giving reason.
Bonfield served as the city manager for 12 years.
Corrected spelling of Terri Finnerty's first name.