While Ockunzzi Sends IRB Reeling, Other Matters Await Board Action
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - While this city was reeling and buzzing with the controversy surrounding Mayor-Commissioner Bill Ockunzzi, other business - the city manager's contract and the lagging Grieshaber case - was on the minds of commissioners.
The CM contract is a knotty affair.
Steve Cottrell, hired as city manager after an interim period on the job, signed a contract which included an outline of his benefits but then, a few weeks ago, he came to the commission with Andy Salzman, the city attorney, in an attempt to modify the contract.
That was done in such a way to disturb commissioners because the move was made under the guise that a simple fix needed to be made because or a "scrivener's error" and that there would be no financial impact on the city.
Both contentions appear to be inaccurate.
Rather than take quick action that night, Mayor-Commissioner Bill Ockunzzi insisted that the matter be brought up in detail before the commission. When Cottrell and Salzman tried to be persuasive for immediate action, Ockunzzi wisely persisted in his view.
What Cottrell wants is a material alteration in the contract. Very simply, when a change of that sort is desired the parties are back to square one.
Contracts just are not open to tweaking once they are signed. The parties are stuck with what they have.
Cottrell's demands for a change center around his pension status - whether he will be fully vested from the outset or vested on a five-year basis.
Obviously, this would have a financial impact. And a material alteration is far beyond a "scrivener's error."
In the Grieshaber case, the city is suing the former city manager for the return of money it claims he should not have received and he has filed a counter-claim in which he seeks money he says the city owes him.
The parties are apparently still in discovery.
Interrogatories sent to Grieshaber were answered and sent to the city and said to be received by Cottrell.
Some commissioners wanted to know why they did not get a look at Grieshaber's answers. The situation is very interesting.
Cottrell said he thought that the information was confidential, not realizing, apparently, that all material in any lawsuit, as a general rule, is public information.
Anyone can look at any law suit file unless the court has sealed or otherwise suppressed information.
Legal experts who have looked at the claims of the city and Grieshaber feel that Grieshaber has the best of the law suit. Whatever money he received from the city was in conformance with his contract which some have said was full of holes.
Courts as a rule do not correct bad bargains made by competent and legally responsible parties, and if a party takes advantage of elements in a contract not much can be done about it.
Also on the minds of IRB commissioners is the status of the city attorney, Andy Salzman. An invitation to bid for the job is going to be issued.
Some commissioners are not happy with Salzman's performance. He contracted as city attorney with another jurisdiction and his attendance at Indian Rocks Beach has been spotty, they say.
His employment agreement with the city calls for him to attend "up to four meetings a month." A careful analysis of that language shows that there is no requirement in that for a minimum amount of meetings.
The contract was written by Salzman and the city did not have a lawyer representing its interest in the formation of the contract. Obviously, Salzman could not negotiate both for himself and the city. That would be an absurdity.
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