Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New Port Richey wants legal opinion on city manager vacancy

NEW PORT RICHEY — Wary of running afoul of state law, the City Council will seek legal advice about searching for a new permanent city manager — or not.

At a special meeting Tuesday evening, Mayor Scott McPherson raised the concern that the city could be responsible for reimbursing the state if it rehires Tom O'Neill as city manager without properly honoring his 30-day retirement.

O'Neill, who has worked for the city for 35 years, had to retire two weeks ago because he had enrolled five years ago in the state retirement program when he was still public works director.

At issue now is a controversial loophole in state law that allows public employes to return to their old jobs after 30 days, eventually collecting both a salary and their monthly pension — a process known as double-dipping.

O'Neill would also collect a lump-sum retirement payment of $192,278.

McPherson said he feared the city could be responsible for returning that money if there were the appearance that the council was holding O'Neill's job for him for these 30 days.

"The thing that really concerns me is if it doesn't pass the smell test, if they resign and the council does nothing and they just walk back in after a calendar month," McPherson said. "The last thing in the world that I want to see happen is to be up here explaining to residents why the city has to cut a check for $200,000."

The mayor presented the council with a legal advisory from a similar case in the city of Live Oak, where the attorney general said the city could be liable for returning the retirement payment of a worker who was rehired.

Although he practices law, McPherson reminded the council that he is not the city attorney. McPherson recommended asking City Attorney Thomas Morrison to advise the council on the issue, and the council agreed.

Morrison was not present Tuesday evening.

Council member Rob Marlowe originally said it would be more cost effective to rehire a tested veteran than to search for new candidates, but after hearing the mayor's concerns, he suggested the council could advertise the position.

"I don't believe it should be a slam dunk that he just waltzes back in here on the 31st day," Marlowe said of O'Neill. "But it would be a gross waste of taxpayer money to hire someone to do a nationwide search."

McPherson said he wanted to have an honest discussion about how the council should handle the city manager vacancy.

"I have better things to do with my time than to play games of charades with my fellow council members," he said.

McPherson added that while it has never been the case that there was a backroom deal to hold O'Neill's job for him, "frankly, we do all want him back."

But some residents said they were unhappy with the council's handling of the issue.

"I'm very concerned about this because I don't like the impropriety factor and the ethics involved," said resident Catherine Fata. "It sounds like you've all given him the rubber stamp of let's rehire him and it's a pain to look at other candidates."

Though the meeting concerned his fate, O'Neill did not attend because he has to stay out of city business for the duration of his retirement.

On a related matter, the council voted unanimously to allow Jeff Sutton to continue as interim city manager for up to six months even though he lives outside the city limits. City law requires the city manager to live in the city unless the council makes such an exception.

New Port Richey wants legal opinion on city manager vacancy 06/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 9:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Video: Rays Souza on that oh-so-bad dive, and reaction from Twins fans


    What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking when he made that oh-so-bad dive for a ball in the seventh inning Friday? Well, we'll let him tell you ...

  2. What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking on that comically bad dive?


    What could Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. been thinking in the seventh inning Friday when he dove for a ball and came up yards short?

    Actually, he insisted after all the laughing, teasing and standing ovation from the Twins fans was done, it was a matter of self-preservation.

  3. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo


    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  4. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies


    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  5. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.