BELLEAIR - Whatever the real reasons are as to why some of the commission members want to get rid of Town Manager Steve Cottrell, it was clear at the commission’s meeting September 21 that the votes are not there to do so.
Commissioner Gary Katica moved that Cottrell be given immediate notice that his contract, up March 2, would not be renewed.
The motion failed to get a second. If he could participate at that level – motions and seconds - Mayor George Mariani certainly would have backed the Katica motion.
Because it takes four votes to remove the manager, and notice of non-renewal is tantamount to dismissal, it is obvious four votes don’t exist on the Belleair commission to give Cottrell, who has been in the job for 8 ˝ years, the heave ho.
Cottrell’s contract with the town requires that four months advance notice be given if there is an intent to not renew the contract.
When Katica’s move flopped, Mariani appeared to be anxious for a moment and looked hopeful that a second might be forthcoming as he dawdled briefly, keeping the issue issue, but no second materialized.
Then ensued a discussion of when to go into the whole business again and the commission decided that it would be taken up at a special meeting November 1.
In the meantime, lacking four votes to unhorse him, Cottrell can stay on indefinitely, depending on how his own comfort level would adjust to that awkward situation. But then, with only two members of the commission desirous of his leaving, he might manage it.
Commissioner Steve Fowler is the only member who was on the commission when Cottrell was hired in March, 1997, and he clearly is in Cottrell’s corner. So is Bonnie Ruggles, in a less obvious way.
Where Tom Shelly stands is not clear, but his failure to second Katica’s motion spoke volumes.
The matter came up in the context of Cottrell’s evaluation. Left hanging was whether or not he would get a 2.5 percent merit raise. He will get the cost of living increase, which is something like 3.5 percent.
Given as the reason for dissatisfaction with Cottrell, at least in Mariani’s stated view, is that the manager did not bring the issue of salary increases to the commission. Instead, Cottrell averaged his evaluation marks and then took whatever increase was given to other employees.
Cottrell, on the other hand, says that getting the evaluation forms from Mariani was the equivalent of pulling teeth and he gave up and took what he thought was a rationale approach.
Besides, Cottrell points out, the rules say that the mayor is supposed to bring the issue to the commission, not the manager.
Other reasons lurk beneath the surface, one suspects, but there wasn’t enough of that sentiment last Wednesday to begin the process of removing Cottrell. November may paint a different picture.
If it gets rid of Cottrell, the commission will be losing the one energetic source that came up with the idea of the town marketing its own electricity, a venture that has been highly successful in many jurisdictions in Florida and in about 2,000 across the country, half of them smaller than Belleair, which is home to less than 5,000 souls.
The meeting was prolonged with much comment from Rae Clair Johnson, an unsuccessful candidate for office this year who opposes the electric venture.
It was dragged out even more by a woman with a grating Yankee accent who obviously had the mission of straightening out some "dumb Rebels" in the matter of governmental procedure.
Mariani politely and graciously gave a lesson in how open government here is administered, irrespective of how it might be done “up there.”
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