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. Editorial: Coming together to reduce car thefts


    The simple, knee-jerk response to the juvenile car theft epidemic in Pinellas County would be to crack down on offenders with an increased police presence and stiffer sentences. Thankfully, local community leaders did not stop there. As detailed in a recent Tampa Bay Times follow-up to its 
As detailed in a recent Tampa Bay Times follow-up to its "Hot Wheels" investigation into youth car thefts, a variety of ideas from multiple directions increases the odds of actually solving the cause and not just treating the symptoms.

  2. Editorial: Floridians' health care now at risk in Washington


    The health care for millions of Floridians is now at risk. The U.S. Senate's dramatic vote Tuesday to begin debate on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act with no idea what will happen is a dangerous gamble with American lives and the national economy. Barring an unexpected bipartisan compromise, a handful of …

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., dramatically returned to the Senate for the first time since his brain cancer was diagnosed and cast the key vote that enabled Vice President Mike Pence to break the 50-50 tie and allow the health care debate to proceed.
  3. Former Marine from Florida dies fighting for Kurdish militia

    ORLANDO — A former Marine who secretly traveled to Syria earlier this year to battle the Islamic State was killed while fighting for a Kurdish militia, his father said Tuesday.

  4. Ratings service Nielsen begins tracking live TV consumption on Hulu, YouTube


    TV ratings service Nielsen will begin tracking how many people watch network TV on YouTube and Hulu to gauge how many viewers broadcast networks have through streaming, the company announced Tuesday.

    Nielsen, a ratings company, is monitoring how many viewers watch live TV on Hulu and YouTube to get a better sense of overall viewership. | [AP]
  5. FWC investigates viral video of shark getting dragged behind speeding boat (w/video)


    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating a viral video that shows a shark being dragged behind a boat on a rope as men laugh each time its body slams the water.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating a viral video that shows a shark being dragged behind a boat on a rope as men laugh each time its body slams the water. [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]