NEW PORT RICHEY — The City Council has officially ended the tenure of John Schneiger as city manager and has appointed longtime New Port Richey library director Susan Dillinger to take over his spot on an interim basis.
Council members unanimously appointed Dillinger during a special meeting Tuesday night and also approved a severance agreement paying Schneiger about $40,000 for 18 weeks salary and unused vacation time. The city will also pay Schneiger's health insurance premiums for the next 18 weeks, unless he finds other employment during that time.
Dillinger, who has run the city's award-winning library program for 22 years, told the Times she will consult with council members to discuss the key issues moving forward. She said she also will lean on the talents of other department heads.
"I'll do what needs to be done," she said of the new job. "Steady as she goes."
In a private meeting last week, Schneiger, 57, told Mayor Bob Consalvo he wished to leave the city, saying he had lost the support of a majority of City Council members. Consalvo brought the news to council members Oct. 2.
Consalvo said Schneiger — who had been on medical leave since Sept. 7 — did not provide specifics about his perceived disconnect with council members. As part of the severance agreement, both sides agreed not to say anything negative about the other.
It's not the first time Schneiger has cut such a deal with a city. In 2005, the Montrose City Council in Colorado entered into a separation agreement with Schneiger, their city manager, citing "irreconcilable differences," according to reports in the Montrose Daily Press. Schneiger was quoted in the report as saying:
"It had to do with growing differences between myself and council over the last year. I think these situations are always very difficult when relationships get to the point where you're not sure they can improve."
Schneiger had been city manager in Montrose since 2000.
Consalvo also said he recently learned that before Schneiger went on medical leave, he applied for a city manager position in Oregon. Schneiger made a short list of six finalists but reported he has since pulled his name from consideration, Consalvo told the Times on Tuesday.
Taking the reins in 2010 of a city with dire financial problems, Schneiger rubbed some residents the wrong way by proposing to eliminate city funding for special events such as Chasco Fiesta and the holiday street parade. Council members later restored some funding, although at lesser amounts.
New Port Richey faced a budget crunch, with property values plummeting and the city carrying a heavy debt load on redevelopment properties purchased during the boom. Council members approved a budget last month that included layoffs of some workers and added responsibilities for others.
"Morale has really been put to the test," said council member Judy DeBella Thomas.
Council member Bill Phillips said he had "up and down" emotions dealing with Schneiger's abrupt departure.
"We all would have liked the opportunity to discuss his feelings with him but he's been out for some time," Phillips said. "It's time to find new leadership. It's time for us to move on."
In addition to appointing Dillinger as interim manager, the City Council directed its human resources department to handle the search for a permanent replacement, instead of hiring a recruiter, as the city has done in the past.
"We really need to make this a home-analyzed situation," Phillips said.
The city will also use the Range Rider program, which provides cities with the temporary services of retired city managers while a local government looks to make a new hire. The council also directed human resources officials to utilize free services offered by the program for assistance in locating the right candidate.
Finding Schneiger's permanent replacement will likely be a lengthy process. City human resources consultant Steve Rosenthal estimated it could take up to eight months.
So the council agreed the plan will be for Dillinger to serve as interim manager until a Range Rider candidate can be found to take over the interim title. That person would then serve as interim city manager until a permanent candidate is selected.
Since Schneiger went on medical leave in early September, City Finance Director Doug Haag had been serving as acting city manager. Council members praised his work but expressed concern that he already had a full plate with upcoming audits and continuing budget concerns on the horizon.
"I think Doug's done a great job in a very difficult situation," said Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe.