MADEIRA BEACH – Amid sharp criticism from residents and even one of its own members, the City Commission hired controversial former City Manager Jim Madden Tuesday to temporarily run the city.
With a 3-1 vote, the commission offered Madden, also city resident, the job of interim city manager at a $2,000 per week salary.
Madden replaces Fire Chief Chief Bill Mallory who resigned Friday as interim city manager after being accused last week by Madden and some commissioners of lying to the commission.
Madden, who also called for Mallory to be fired, will now run the city until the commission can hire a permanent city manager, likely in December.
A consultant hired to search for that new manager said he has received more 100 applications and inquiries from candidates in just the last two weeks.
Mayor Travis Palladeno proposed Madden's hiring and was supported by Commissioners Nancy Oakley and Robin Vander Velde.
The three said the city is facing crucial deadlines to file required reports to the county and state and needs an experienced manager.
Palladeno said a financial report is overdue to the state and a property tax report is due to the county next week.
"We are looking at some big things right now," Palladeno said, confirming that he also considered Marina Director Dave Marsicano for the temporary post.
He and the other commissioners also hope that Madden can quickly fill several open positions, including finance director, planning/development director and code enforcement officer.
"Mr. Madden knows what's going on here. I have complete confidence in him," said Vander Velde who frequently copies Madden on her city-related e-mails.
Commissioner Terry Lister sharply disagreed.
"I don't think Jim is a good candidate. I don't think Jim loves the city," Commissioner Terry Lister objected, pointing out that Madden is currently suing the city over the severance package given former city manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. by the previous commission.
Madden also previously served as the city's manager for two years until he was placed on administrative leave in 2004 (at his request) amid efforts to fire him. Previously, he was city manager in Pinellas Park until the commission there fired him in 1997.
"Did you not ask for Mallory to be fired at the last meeting," Lister asked Madden Tuesday.
"I don't recall," Madden responded. At that meeting, however, Madden strongly recommended the commission "replace" Mallory.
"Now you are asking for twice what he was making? That is totally wrong," Lister said.
Despite repeated requests, Palladeno refused to allow Lister to propose another candidate for the interim manager position.
At Vander Velde's urging, Madden pledged not to access any documents relating to his lawsuit against the city.
For more than a year, Madden has been a frequent visitor to city commission meetings, often criticizing the city's budget and management.
But Tuesday, it was Madden's turn to hear sharp criticism from a large crowd of angry residents concerned about his record when he ran the city.
"The conduct of several members of this board over last year or so has hurt the image of this village," resident Robert Shaw told the board. "Qualified people aren't going to want to come in here and face you people. The board has got to start working with each other and stop damaging the reputation of this city."
Resident Steve Rayow said he decided to attend the meeting because he had become "so disappointed in the conduct of the members of this commission."
He said "something rotten" was going on in a city where the commission would want to bring back the "good old boy network" that included Madden and former Board of Adjustment chairman Joe Jorgensen.
"Before I would see the good old boy network back in this town, I would rather see the city disbanded. We got rid of Joe Jorgensen and (former mayor Tom) Decesar and the rest of that crowd," Rayow said.
Resident Ken Jacobson begged the commission not to "scare away" a qualified permanent new city manager with less than a unanimous vote.
"I have been watching commission meetings on TV and decided I had to come and get more involved," resident Janice Reid said, adding that she was "angry" and "upset" over Mallory's resignation.
"I am very upset with how meetings have been run. The undercurrent that's going on here that doesn't make sense," Reid said. "What can Jim Madden do now, fire Bill Mallory as fire chief? Is that what is next on your agenda? Look into your souls."
Calling Reid's comments "a hard act to follow," resident Diane Burkheimer chastised commissioners for not listening to residents.
"It is very embarrassing to be a resident in the city right now. We will continue to be in the news if you hire Jim Madden back," Burkheimer said.
Resident Jan Stack similarly told the commission they needed to apologize to Mallory for what she said were "distasteful and tragic" comments about his job performance.
Former city human resources manager Deborah Cline, who once threatened to sue the city for creating a hostile work environement and is now out of a job in a budget cutback, reminded the commission that Madden had twice resigned as manager and had problems with city employees.
"I want to know this guy who is so bad," Madden joked, promising to serve as city manager only temporarily and to help the city address pending issues.
Madden's choice was supported by resident Debbie Weinstein, calling him the only person that can "keep the city on the right track."
Former commissioner Martha Boos also supported Madden, urging the commission to ignore what she said were "unfounded rumors" about his management of the city.
But despite that support and the continued determination of the three commission members (Vice Mayor Carol Reynolds did not attend the meeting), the loudest applause came when former Commissioner Steve Kochick told Palladeno, Oakley and Vander Velde they face a recall effort if they hired Madden.
"This will be the last straw. Mr. Madden has been advising you on how to destroy the city. To bring him in will divide the city in ways unheard of," Kochick said. "There will be a recall."
Nonetheless, after the vote to hire Madden, Palladeno asked the city's attorney to draw up a formal employment contract so that Madden could begin his new/old job "as soon as possible".