MADEIRA BEACH — Madeira Beach city managers — past, present and future — made news at City Hall last week, just days before an election that will determine how the city will be run for at least the next two years.
On Tuesday, fire Chief Bill Mallory was appointed interim city manager to replace departing City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr.
On Thursday, the city was served with notice of a lawsuit filed by former City Manager Jim Madden, who is challenging the City Commission's decision last month to pay Higginbotham a severance package that includes six months' salary.
And Friday was Higginbotham's last day serving as the city's manager.
Higginbotham, 69, asked the commission to terminate his contract last month, saying he could not work with the commission that will exist after Tuesday's municipal election.
He declined to comment Friday on what he will do next, but he did have some advice for the city.
"It will be important for the new commission to understand the difference between the general fund, enterprise and capital funds, between onetime and ongoing expenditures," he said Friday. "It is not true, it is flat not true that the city's budget is not balanced."
Higginbotham came under fire last summer for his then-recommended city budget from a group that will now form a majority on the commission — Commissioners Carol Reynolds and Nancy Oakley and Robin Vander Velde, who, because of no opposition, will automatically fill the District 4 seat now held by Steve Kochick.
Kochick is running for mayor against Travis Palladeno, who has also been critical of the city's finances.
Last summer and fall, Palladeno, Oakley, Vander Velde and others, including Madden, met privately to discuss the city's budget and future course.
A state attorney investigation of one of those meetings found no evidence that it violated the state Sunshine Law, even though Oakley was a city commissioner and Palladeno and Vander Velde were members of the city's Planning Board.
Management of the city's finances is a major issue in the current election campaign.
Oakley, who was not opposed for re-election, recently asked the city for copies of pay and benefits contracts with its general employee and firefighter unions.
During the commission debate Tuesday over what to pay Mallory as interim city manager, Oakley initially objected to any contract longer than a month.
"That would give the next commission an opportunity to make their own decision. We don't know what they would do," she said.
When the city attorney pointed out that Mallory could be relieved of his city manager duties at any time, she agreed to the contract, which will pay Mallory an extra $1,000 every two-week pay period.
Mallory makes $74,672 a year as fire chief. The raise brings his salary to an annual equivalent of $100,672. Higginbotham was paid $92,250 a year.
"We need to take into consideration that Bill (Mallory) will be doing four jobs: fire chief, city manager, code enforcement officer and community health officer," Mayor Pat Shontz said.
The scuttlebutt around town and on blogs is that Oakley, Reynolds, Vander Velde and Palladeno want to hire Madden back as either city manager or to fill the now-vacant post of community development director.
When asked directly, all say they "like" Madden but deny that is their intent. Madden has had no comment, but he remains critical of financial decisions made by the city.
His lawsuit contends that the city improperly approved Higginbotham's severance package that he says totals more than $78,800 with pay and benefits.
He maintains that because the formal resolution terminating Higginbotham's city manager contract was not advertised on the official agenda, or read out during the meeting, that violated both state law and city codes.
According to official minutes, the commission voted 4-1 to accept Higginbotham's request for termination and the "appropriate resolution." It was not until after that Feb. 8 meeting that the city attorney provided the formal resolution that was subsequently signed by the mayor.
Madden is asking the Circuit Court to prevent the city from executing Higginbotham's severance package without a "proper" vote.
If the court were to agree, it likely could not occur before Tuesday's municipal election.
Such a vote would be made by the new commission, and the majority might be reluctant to ratify the severance package, even though Oakley and Reynolds did vote for it last month.