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Indian Rocks Beach treasurer may lose job

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — City treasurer Marty Schless may be fired Tuesday for his role in the city's developing financial woes.

A resolution to terminate Schless' contract was put on Tuesday's commission meeting agenda by Commissioners Bert Valery and Terry Wollin.

If the commission decides to fire Schless, it will come at the same time the city is trying to put together a budget to cover a potential $1-million shortfall caused by red ink in its sewer and solid waste operations.

For nearly five years, the city has used property taxes and other revenue to subsidize its sewer and garbage departments — to the point that the city has used all of its reserve funds to keep the two utilities running.

Plugging that shortfall will require a substantial increase in sewer and garbage pickup rates for Indian Rocks Beach residents.

The commission will learn Tuesday just how much those rates will have to jump when it reviews a special report from a consulting firm, Burton & Associates.

Consultant Rob Garner recently told the commission that unless rates are increased to return the utilities to profitability, the "fiscal viability" of the city will be endangered.

Without casting blame, Garner told the city that after Pinellas County changed how it billed the city for sewer services, the city failed to anticipate just how much its costs would rise.

Schless was hired as city treasurer in 2006, well after the shortfall started, but quickly become an easy target for commissioners and residents alike.

Last week during a discussion of the sewer and solid waste losses, Valery and Wollin pushed for his dismissal, saying they have "lost confidence" in Schless.

"We are all upset we did not get adequate warning (about the sewer and solid waste fund deficits). We can't operate like this anymore. I have lost faith in him and am ready to terminate," Valery said.

Wollin particularly criticized Schless for not attending a meeting to discuss the sewer and solid waste funds with her, Interim City Manager Danny Taylor, Garner and former Commissioner Jose Coppen.

During his two-year tenure on the commission, which ended in March, Coppen was an increasing critic of Schless and repeatedly called for him to be fired.

Taylor criticized preliminary budget figures submitted by Schless as "hard to follow" during a commission workshop last month. "My confidence is certainly compromised," Taylor said.

Schless reacted sharply, at one point calling Taylor "incompetent" and ungrateful for the help he and other staff members had given Taylor.

"I am absolutely shocked by your comments," Schless said to the city manager. "For you to do something like this, you were either coerced or bribed."

Schless has drawn sharp criticism as well from residents.

"There is irrefutable evidence of a trail of misdeeds or malfeasance. The first thing is to remove the city treasurer," Don House said.

Resident Nancy Obarsky called the situation "deception bordering on fraud" and called on the commission "to get to bottom of why this happened."

But not all commissioners are ready to fire Schless.

"I believe an awful lot has been laid at Marty's feet that doesn't have a lot to do with him," said Mayor R.B. Johnson. "Marty has been getting hammered for everything going on even though he came here in the middle of this situation."

Johnson did say, though, that the city has a "dysfunctional administration" that needs to be addressed. "Things are definitely not working out now."

Commissioners Cookie Kennedy and Martin Torres said they need more information about how Schless has handled his job before they are willing to fire him.

"If I were Marty, I would have walked out a long time ago," Kennedy said. "Nobody's job is worth being belittled."

Indian Rocks Beach treasurer may lose job 07/05/08 [Last modified: Saturday, July 5, 2008 10:53pm]
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