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Newly aligned Madeira Beach commission wants tighter financial controls

MADEIRA BEACH — Tuesday will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the city's political history as a new mayor is sworn into office to lead a City Commission majority that appears bent on change.

Just what that change will entail and how it will affect residents is yet to be seen.

But the newly aligned City Commission already has had a significant effect on City Hall.

Even before voters went to the polls, City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. and Planning and Zoning Director Paula Cohen quit and City Clerk Denise Schlegel applied for the city clerk post in St. Pete Beach.

The commission's new voting block includes newly elected Mayor Travis Palladeno and Commissioner Robin Vander Velde, as well as re-elected Commissioner Nancy Oakley and returning Commissioner Carol Reynolds.

Neither Vander Velde nor Oakley had any opposition in the election. Reynolds, who was not up for re-election, has another year to serve in her term.

Since last summer's budget discussions, all were sharply critical of the city's financial management and advocate tighter financial controls.

Tuesday, the new commission will have its first opportunity to officially question the city's finances when it reviews the official financial audit for the fiscal year ending September 2010.

During a candidate forum prior to the election, Palladeno criticized some of the former commission's spending decisions and said residents want more sidewalk, street and drainage improvements.

Some of the specific improvements Palladeno says are needed include improving crosswalks and burying utility lines on Gulf Boulevard.

He says "outside-the-box-thinking" can put the city on a sounder financial path that preserves the city's savings while improving infrastructure and keeping property taxes low.

Palladeno has softened his earlier call for the commission to "micromanage" city affairs, but remains adamant that the city needs to be more responsive to its residents.

One of the changes Palladeno envisions is to require the city's management staff to attend training classes to ensure they become more "accountable" to residents.

Vander Velde, Oakley and Reynolds have been equally critical of the city's financial management and are expected to form a strong coalition with Palladeno.

"Democracy won," says returning Commissioner Terry Lister, who is not part of that coalition, but says he will work with the new commission for a better Madeira Beach.

He says he doesn't necessarily disagree with the rest of the commission's goals, but is concerned that even more city employees will resign.

"I just hate to see the employees so scared. I am afraid we are going to lose more top notch people. I don't want everybody to jump ship," Lister says.

When Higginbotham asked to be terminated last month, he cited the new commission's intent "to get more involved in day to day operations" as the reason for leaving.

Now, one of the new commission's first major tasks will be to find a new city manager.

In the meantime, fire Chief Bill Mallory is serving as interim city manager.

Newly aligned Madeira Beach commission wants tighter financial controls 03/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 19, 2011 4:31am]
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