DUNEDIN — At the end of last week's City Commission meeting, City Manager Rob DiSpirito invited residents to a city workshop and thanked the commission for supporting him as he grieved his father's recent death.
Moments later, City Commissioner Heather Gracy made a motion to fire him.
"I've taken a very hard look at some things," she said. Gracy asked the commission to get rid of DiSpirito immediately and give Deputy City Manager Doug Hutchens the job until a permanent replacement is found.
She said she can't seem to get her ideas through with DiSpirito.
"It's a diminished and eroding confidence," she said. "I think the public deserves a whole lot better."
The motion was made a few minutes before midnight.
Per DiSpirito's contract, a super-majority of the commission is required to terminate him. Commissioner John Tornga and Vice Mayor Bruce Livingston also voted in favor of firing DiSpirito, but the motion failed 3-2.
Last March, Gracy told the city manager she was very pleased with his job performance.
"Nobody is perfect," she said. "You strive to be darn near close. I can tell."
She provided some suggestions for DiSpirito, like spending more time in the community and working on the city's parking plan, but said she saw no glaring issues.
So what's changed?
Gracy declined to provide further comment when reached this week.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes said she felt thrown for a loop by the discussion.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski seemed to agree, asking city attorney Tom Trask if the public needed to know of the vote before it happened.
Trask said the commission can discuss the city manager's job without putting it on an agenda first.
The commission voted unanimously to move DiSpirito's yearly evaluation, scheduled for mid-February, up to the next commission meeting, which is next Thursday.
DiSpirito said he was shocked by the motion.
"I have nine years worth of good to great evaluations," he said. "I just don't know what it's about."
He said he's interested to find out the concerns of the commission.
"There have been no performance concerns of any significance made to me," he said.
In 2015, all of the commission recommended giving DiSpirito a salary increase. He received mostly good feedback during that performance review, including positive comments from Gracy and Livingston.
He became Dunedin's city manager in 2007, and his annual salary is $153,995. If DiSpirito is fired without cause, he'll receive six months of severance pay.
During the meeting, Livingston said it grieved him to have the discussion.
"I think he has done a very effective job getting us to where we are today, but I think we need a new vision for the future," he said.
Livingston told the Times he stands by his comments and would be comfortable discussing the issue further after DiSpirito's performance review.
Former mayor Manny Koutsourais said he thinks the discussion was an embarrassment to the city. He said he thinks Dunedin has been run well.
"I just don't think you treat people like that," said Koutsourais, who has lived in Dunedin for 50 years. "I think Rob was blindsided."
But restaurateur Peter Kreuziger, a founding member of the Dunedin Merchants Association, said he wasn't surprised by the motion.
"Whatever happens to him is self-inflicted," he said.
Contact Ayana Stewart at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. Follow @AyanaStewart.