MADEIRA BEACH — Another top administrator here — the fourth since December — has left.
Monica Mitchell, the city's award-winning finance director for more than seven years, handed in her resignation Thursday to accept an assistant finance director position in Clearwater for slightly less pay.
"If anything, the recent changes at City Hall have given me the little push that I needed to step outside of my comfort zone and begin to realize my full potential in my field," Mitchell wrote to Interim City Manager and Fire Chief Bill Mallory. "I am capable of much more than Madeira Beach requires."
She said the new position with "a progressive and well-managed city" will give her career a significant boost.
"I will be supervising more people and be able to work on things like bond issues and pension funds that Madeira Beach doesn't have," Mitchell said.
She will be paid $76,000, a bit less than the $77,200 she earns in Madeira Beach.
Mitchell's resignation comes after the departures of City Clerk Denise Schlegel (March), City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. (February) and Community Development Director Paula Cohen (December 2010).
The city has only three major department heads left — Mallory, Community Services Director Mike Maxemow and Human Resources Manager Deborah Cline.
Maxemow and Cline have come under increasing criticism from the commission's new majority, including repeated requests to Higginbotham to eliminate them. He had refused.
In just the past month, Commissioner Nancy Oakley called for the human resources manager position to be eliminated or sharply downgraded.
"We can have a clerk to do the same thing," Oakley said.
Oakley and commissioner Robin Vander Velde were highly critical of Maxemow's rehiring by Higginbotham after Maxemow's retirement last year.
Maxemow says he has no intention of resigning.
On learning of the latest City Hall resignation, former Mayor Pat Shontz blamed the departures on the newly elected commission.
"They (the commission) are destroying the foundation of the city," Shontz said Friday. "The most important people are gone. I am very concerned. The city is headed in the wrong direction."
She said the new commission "thinks it can run the city" but has forgotten its role is to "make policy," not to micromanage the city's day-to-day operations.
"They had best read their city charter," Shontz said. "The citizens of this town had better wake up and see what is happening. In the nearly 50 years I have lived in Madeira Beach, I have never seen what is going on in this town today."
She said before the new commission took office, the city's employees and commission "all worked together" for the city.
"We were so fortunate to collect these employees. Other municipalities are eager to grab them," Shontz said.
Cohen is now working as a planner for Treasure Island. Schlegel was hired as a city clerk for Dunedin. Higginbotham is now president of the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce.
Mitchell, who will begin her new job in Clearwater on May 9, received certificates of achievement for "Excellence in Financial Reporting" for each of the past seven years from the Government Finance Officers Association.
The city's auditor, Laura Brock, praised the city last month for being "diligent with expenses and tracking revenues" and Mitchell specifically for being "very organized" and "very well-prepared."
During Mitchell's tenure under a series of city managers, the city has accumulated a reserve of $7.5 million, not including another $5.1 million in restricted or assigned funds. The city has no debt.
"With Monica leaving, as a city manager I would be beside myself wondering what to do," Higginbotham said Friday. "She was an outstanding finance director. Clearwater is very fortunate to get her. She will be a big loss for the city."
But Mayor Travis Palladeno sees it differently, saying he didn't view Mitchell's resignation as a loss, but rather a "good thing for Madeira Beach."
"We (he and other members of the commission's majority) have been talking about accountability. Maybe these people (leaving city management) are some of the people who don't know what that word means."
The vacant positions will allow the new commission "not to clean house, but to rebuild a management team that can take Madeira Beach in the direction people want," Palladeno said.