Ockunzzi Position on City Attorney Fails to Persuade IRB Commission
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - Mayor-Commissioner Bill Ockunzzi, whose political fortunes seem to be waning, lost on another issue when the City Commission agreed to go ahead and issue a request for proposal for city attorney.
Ockunzzi wanted to merely evaluate the performance of Andy Salzman, the attorney, but on a 3-2 vote the commission decided to go ahead with the RFP.
A chief proponent of the RFP has been Commissoner Jose Coppen who listed several complaints with Salzman.
Coppen has criticized the contract that Salzman prepared for Al Grieshaber, the former city attorney, that has now resulted in a lawsuit between the city and Grieshaber.
Also criticized is Salzman entering into a contract with nearby Redington Beach that Coppen says creates a conflict with Salzman attending IRB meetings.
Salzman's employment contract with IRB calls for him attending "up to four meetings a month," with no specific requirement for a minimum number of meetings.
Coppen also complained of delays in legally resolving the controversy over the Whitehurst beach access that at one time had Indian Shores involved as well as an IRB resident.
The current action on an RFP for the city attorney position goes back to June when it was first broached and was successfully postponed.
This is just one of several issues plaguing Indian Rocks Beach, which has resulted in delaying regular city business.
Commissioner R.B. Johnson publicly assailed Ockunzzi at the commission meeting October 17 for what he described as a misleading "news release" Ockunzzi had put out.
Johnson, whose charge was delivered in a deadly calm but very serious voice, said Ockunzzi had falsely portrayed what happened at a previous commission meeting.
Only two citizens were in the audience - both backers of Ockunzzi - to hear Johnson's attack, but it was reported in the Clearwater Gazette based on a auditory tape of the meeting.
Johnson's attack, along with a slew of other items, raises the question of observers in the city whether Ockunzzi could successfully survive a re-election attempt in March, should he choose to run.
There is also the ominous feeling of an underlying issue that has not become public.
The matters brought up by Johnson have not died.
Johnson said, "Action needs to be taken. There should be a written apology with an assurance that it will not happen again. There is a charter provision that allows us to censure a member."
The commission has not yet taken any action on when to hold a special meeting on the accusations Johnson brought up against Ockunzzi. But the charges are deemed as very serious.
Johnson's criticism followed another diatribe against Ockunzzi delivered at a commission meeting several weeks earlier by Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin.
Clearly, Ockunzzi is in political hot water and the situation has triggered e-mails by Ockunzzi to various and sundry addressees that have been described as the "dying throes of a political life."
One leading figure privately questioned whether Ockunzzi can be removed from office because he is an obstacle to getting "meaningful work done on the City Commission."
Then there is the question of the city manager's contract. Although the contract has been signed, Steve Cottrell, the city manager now wants changes made in his pension benefits.
Of course, fundamental to contract law is the idea, pointed out by Ed Piniero, a former commissioner, at a recent meeting that once one provision of a contract is opened for discussion the whole contract is open for discussion.
One suggestion that has come up in the wake of one of Ockunzzi's e-mails where he disputed Hamilton-Wollin's contention and asserted that he was elected by 30 percent of the vote, not 23 percent as she said, is a charter amendment that would require a 51 percent majority to become elected.
In regard to the Ockunzzi caviling over the percentage, one observer noted, "It means 70 percent of the voters were against him instead of 77 percent. What a bozo!"
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