By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
St. Petersburg Times
July 20, 2000
CLEARWATER -- City commissioners say they are ready to bring City Manager Mike Roberto's promising but turbulent tenure to an end tonight.
But just how he'll leave, and how much he'll be paid to do so, remains up for debate.
Roberto's proposal for a severance package is scheduled to be discussed at the end of today's 6 p.m. City Commission meeting at City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave.
"There's going to be a new city manager," Mayor Brian Aungst said Wednesday.
"This doesn't need to last another week, month or whatever," said Commissioner Ed Hart.
Roberto, who said Tuesday that he was considering resigning, stayed away from the office Wednesday and did not return messages. He has yet to make a formal announcement of his resignation, although he has called a meeting of his senior staff Friday morning.
Although none of the city commissioners said outright they were planning to vote to fire Roberto if they couldn't agree on his severence proposal, four of five said the city needs to resolve the situation tonight.
"It's better to be clean with it, and get it over with," said Commissioner J.B. Johnson.
"It has to be done. I don't think there's any choice," said Commissioner Ed Hooper.
Commissioners said they favor making Assistant City Manager Bill Horne, a retired Air Force colonel with an easygoing style, their interim city manager until a successor can be found for Roberto. Horne said he is willing to do it.
"This is a hell of a job," Horne said. "This is a difficult community to govern. . . . I'm not a politician. But I can listen to what people are saying, and I definitely believe I can support my bosses."
A national search probably will not be undertaken until after a city election in March in which three commission seats are up for grabs, several commissioners predicted.
Roberto's announcement Tuesday surprised even his loyal secretary, Denise Wilson. He privately gave commissioners a piece of paper outlining a severance package worth $200,844 as a precondition of his resignation, effective Aug. 4.
The offer came after a discussion with Aungst on Sunday. Before the meeting, the mayor said he was tired of the city administration "shooting itself in the foot."
Roberto has weathered a series of controversies over his free spending on consultants and personnel benefits, his credibility and his role fostering the Clearwater Beach roundabout, among other projects. But he also has been lavishly praised for initiating an ambitious plan to redevelop Clearwater, dubbed "One City. One Future."
The mayor's suggestion during the meeting Sunday that Roberto resign -- one of the most dramatic moves Aungst has made so far -- surprised the other commissioners.
"It could be a power play," said Commissioner Hart, who often clashes with Aungst. "This may be his expression of a way that (the mayor) thinks he'll show leadership. But I think this could all have been done in a more appropriate fashion."
Roberto's proposed severance package includes: a year's salary and pension payments ($126,500); complete health, dental, life and disability insurance coverage for a year ($12,118); yearly car allowance ($4,200); job hunting service ($14,000); compensation for 90 days in unused vacation time ($38,077); office equipment ($5,000); and membership in a professional city manager association ($949).
Three commissioners said Tuesday the package sounded reasonable. But Wednesday, four of the five commissioners said they each have concerns about different aspects of the deal. Commissioner Bob Clark declined to comment.
Commissioner Johnson said he felt it was inappropriate for Roberto to ask to keep a $4,183 laptop computer that is city property, as well as a fax machine, Palm Pilot and cellular phone together worth $817.
Johnson, who urged Roberto to resign last fall, also objected to the city manager's request for the city to pay full health-care coverage for his family for a year. Under Roberto's present employment conditions, he must cover those costs himself.
But even more significantly, Commissioner Hooper said, the severance payoff would be greater than the city is obligated to give Roberto under any circumstances under his current contract.
Under the contract, the city is not obligated to pay Roberto a dime in severance pay -- only the $38,077 for unused vacation time -- if he resigns.
If the commission fires Roberto, the city would be required to pay only about $122,000: eight months salary and pension pay, plus money for banked vacation time.
Hooper said the commission may have to discuss firing its city manager, if no agreement can be reached on a severance package.
"Are we in a corner now, where we have a city manager who is saying that he doesn't want to be here anymore?" Hooper said. "But if there's no agreement, then will somebody have to say something about voting on his contract? I don't know exactly what's going to happen."
At least one resident had a recommendation.
"Why should Mr. Roberto be given severance pay when he has blundered, wasted taxpayers' money, whether it is (for) the roundabout or consultants' fees?" Frank Akis wrote the Times Wednesday. "He is not entitled to anything."