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St. Pete Beach OKs Bonfield’s severance
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Photo by BOB McCLURE
A capacity crowd fills the seats at St. Pete Beach city hall April 30 for a discussion on Mike Bonfield severance agreement.
ST. PETE BEACH – St. Pete Beach Commissioners voted unanimously April 30 to approve a severance agreement with former city manager Mike Bonfield worth a total of $102,332.

The vote came a week after Bonfield waived his right to a public hearing and submitted a proposal to the city in accordance with the terms of his contract.

By approving the agreement, Bonfield will resign his position with the city. The deal becomes effective May 13.

Bonfield, who served for 12 years as the city’s chief administrator, will receive 20 weeks of pay ($48,064.80), the value of his accrued paid time off ($11,127.60) and accrued sick leave ($6,453.23). In addition, the city will contribute $7,209.72 into his ICMA retirement account. Bonfield will also receive $15,057.76 in additional sick leave accrued but not payable under city policy and an additional six weeks of salary ($14,419.44) for releasing the city from any possible legal claims he might have against the city.

A standing-room-only crowd of about 90 residents expressed dismay as to the way the firing took place and that the public was not given an opportunity to respond.

Others supported Mayor Maria Lowe’s action and the decision by the City Commission to move forward with the termination.

Through it all, Lowe has not said why she brought the action and said any discussion at this point would hurt Bonfield’s opportunity to interview for another job.

“I will not discuss why because he (Bonfield) opted to not have a public hearing,” Lowe said. “That is his protection. Anything said in public becomes part of his employment record. It could hurt his interview opportunities in the future. Although there is reason for why I brought forth that motion, I personally will not discuss those reasons to protect his rights.”

Among those who expressed an opinion during public comments was former Mayor Ward Friszolowski.

“I do support the motion but I reluctantly support the motion,” he said. “I think last week’s decision was done not necessarily in the best interest. It could have been added to the (meeting) agenda. I support it because Mike Bonfield worked as part of a team with former mayors and commissioners for a lot of years and there were a lot of good accomplishments.”

Among those things, Friszolowski said was the construction of city hall and community center, along with improvements to Blind Pass Road and Pass-A-Grille Way.

“I absolutely support this (settlement) decision and I think in the long run this will save the city a lot of money,” said Deborah Sheckner. “I’m hoping whoever we choose for our next city manager will be an individual who can truly bring our city together and is opened minded.”

Former City Commissioner Lorraine Huhn called for residents to end their personal agendas and think in terms of the overall good of the city.

“I would ask each and everyone in this city tonight to make the firm decision to stop their personal agenda,” Huhn said. “The city has bled for years. If everyone in this room took it upon themselves to think very clearly of what is in the best interest of this city, we wouldn’t have these problems.”

Attorney and former City Commissioner Deborah Martohue said she was not happy with the conduct of the City Commission.

“I didn’t appreciate the conduct of this commission last week and how you, without notice to the public, just terminated this man who has served this commission, multiple commissions,” Martohue said. “I think he was blind-sided and the city was blind-sided.”

In other action, the commission agreed to give interim city manager Elaine Edmunds a 15 percent pay increase and an additional 3 percent each pay period into her ICMA retirement account while the city searches for a new city manager. Edmunds is the city’s finance director.

Commissioners also decided to fill former Commissioner Jim Parent’s vacant seat on an interim basis on May 13. Persons interested in serving are asked to submit a resume to the city clerk. A special election to fill the remainder of Parent’s term is tentatively set for Aug. 26.

Later in the meeting, during commissioner comments, City Commissioner Greg Premer called for Lowe’s resignation, which brought jeers from those in attendance.

“I’ve considered it and no, I will not resign,” Lowe said.

Outside city hall, a petition effort was under way to remove Lowe from office. Under state law, Lowe would have to serve a minimum of nine months before a recall election could be held.
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