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By all accounts the large community gathering to begin discussion on the long-term strategic plan for the town was a failure.

BELLEAIR – By all accounts the large community gathering to begin discussion on the long-term strategic plan for the town was a failure.

On Nov. 28, more than 100 residents showed up at the Dimmitt Community Center to be guided through a two-hour session by representatives of the Florida Institute of Government, a joint effort by USF and UCF.

At the town’s regular commission meeting on Dec. 4, resident Nancy Hartshorne was critical of the entire event.

“I don’t like the fact that $60,000 is being used for this study,” she said. “The people should come here to the commission meetings to offer their opinions, but nobody comes. I don’t think this was a good plan.”

As often as not at commission meetings when a resident has something to say it ends there. That is not what happened in this case. In fact, Hartshorne opened the floodgates to more discussion, all of it critical.

“I agree that meeting was not what we thought it would be,” said Town Manager J.P. Murphy. “It was a significant false start. Our goal was to have people talk to one another; that is not what happened.”

Murphy said he suggested to the organizers that they do more one-on-one interviews before the next meeting.

Commissioner Tom Shelly suggested they talk to the teen council. He noticed there were no young people at the planning forum.

On the evening of the event, there was constant trouble with the sound system and the echoing because of the gym location.

“For the next meeting perhaps we can move it to the new hotel,” said Murphy. “There is so much more work to be done.”

Commissioner Tom Kurey joined in with more criticism of the event.

“I was disappointed that we lost half the people before the meeting was half over,” he said. “We need to think hard about changing it up. Our first impression was not good; we expect much more of them.”

“We can’t let them waste our money or our time,” said Shelly.

Commissioners then unanimously passed a motion to express their unhappiness with the event. That motion will be passed along to the Florida Institute of Government.

Murphy told the commission he has already contacted Institute officials to tell them of his displeasure.

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 9, with the location to be determined.

Town manager gets raise

Commissioners agreed to give Town Manager Murphy a 3 percent raise.

They actually agreed to that individually when they filled out evaluation forms prior to the meeting. The forms showed that all the commissioners agreed Murphy has done an exceptional job.

Before passing the resolution giving Murphy the raise they had considerable discussion about his accrued vacation time.

Murphy had asked the commission to buy out 240 hours of vacation time that he has not used. Beyond that, Murphy has another 250 hours of unused time that he is letting sit for the time being.

Some commissioners were concerned that they would set a precedent and whatever they did for Murphy they would have to do for all town employees.

Shelly was amenable to paying out the time for Murphy, this year only, until a full scale policy can be adopted.

“I say we pay it off at this year’s rate, rather than wait and risk a higher rate a year or two or three from now,” he said.

Shelly said that perhaps a future policy might force employees to take two or three weeks’ vacation time a year before being allowed to hold over time into the following year.

Deputy Mayor Karla Rettstatt, chairing the meeting in place of the absent Gary Katica, suggested that employees should be able to manage their own finances.

“We don’t know about each employee’s life,” she said. “I think people should take vacation, but everybody has a different goal.”

Tom Kurey was concerned over the precedent of paying out Murphy’s vacation time.

“I don’t want to set a precedent,” he said. “Others could say ‘you got 240 hours now I want 240 hours.’”

Rettstatt felt that because it was Murphy, the town manager, an exception could be made in his case.

Ultimately they passed a resolution favoring the payout with only Kurey voting against it.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But that’s the way I feel.”

A study will now be done with an eye towards setting a firm policy about employee vacation time.

Meetings canceled

The next two scheduled commission meetings have been cancelled, both because of the holiday season.

The meetings on Monday, Dec. 18, and Monday, Jan. 1, have been canceled. The next town commission meeting will be held Tuesday, Jan. 15