Apparently, Kuttler's meter was running the whole time

Well, this is a tad awkward.

When it's time for an icon to ride off into the sunset, you expect the music to play and the credits to roll. You do not expect to haggle over the check.

George Washington, after all, did not deliver his Farewell Address and Expense Account.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur did not declare, "Old soldiers never die, and you owe me for that weekend of extra duty a few years back."

Bogart did not tell Bergman, "We'll always have Paris -— and by the way, you didn't settle your bar tab."

Yet the coming retirement of a Tampa Bay icon may be remembered for the price as well as for the occasion.

Somewhat out of the blue, the trustees of St. Petersburg College learned this week that their school's retiring president, Carl M. Kuttler Jr., believes he is owed something like $684,000.

This impressive and previously undisclosed sum includes unused sick leave, vacation and flex time accumulated over three decades, a sabbatical that he could have requested but never took, and, by the way, $30,000 for a car.

Well!

For starters, this was presented oddly, the figures dumped on the trustees orally, some of them jotting down numbers as if on the back of cocktail napkins.

This is not how responsible institutions operate, and it is not how real college boards of trustees operate.

But in Kuttler World, apparently somebody thought that they might just approve it on the spot.

Indeed, two of the five trustees, Richard Johnston and Evelyn Bilirakis, did not want to delay a decision. Johnston said he would rather "not get into the hassle" of a contract dispute or possible lawsuit. (Heaven forbid that sitting on a college board should involve any hassle!)

But in a burst of fiduciary duty, three of the five trustees — Deveron Gibbons, Ken Burke and chairman Terry Brett — decided they should at least think about it, and put it off until Dec. 15.

Listen:

Carl Kuttler is certainly a larger-than-life leader who has accomplished great things for St. Petersburg College.

There is no denying it. After three decades, he is the college. He is a legend.

There is a downside to one-man rule, too. A parade of critics over the decades will tell you he is a king, a despot, a player of favorites, a maker of deals, a hirer of friends and political buddies.

It's all part of the same package, good and bad.

For all he has accomplished, he is entitled to his due — although that might not be quite what he is asking for.

He probably is going to get a lot of it, thanks to a pretty generous contract. The sick and vacation time? Probably. A sabbatical not taken, unused flex time, even a car? More debatable.

If his contract is too generous, of course, then it is the fault of the same trustees who approved it — cowed and dominated, as they were for a long time, by the crown.

The right way here is for the trustees to show Kuttler all the respect and gratitude that his accomplishments deserve, while making it clear that their duty is to the school and the public.

In the longer term, the trustees' job is to strike a new balance with a new president who exercises leadership under their strong, independent oversight and within clearly defined lines.

Also, maybe, that we know up front how much he or she is gonna cost.

Apparently, Kuttler's meter was running the whole time 12/02/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 2, 2009 7:28pm]

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