PORT RICHEY — Recognizing a need for civility in a place known for its contentious politics, the city passed a Bill of Rights last month to encourage peace and harmony among residents and the City Council.
But during a four-hour meeting Monday night in packed council chambers, civility was shown the door as a divided council chose not to renew City Manager Richard Reade's contract.
Fingers were pointed. Residents took sides. And council members squabbled over whether to retain a man hailed for his work ethic when he was hired last December.
After praising Reade, Mayor Richard Rober made a motion, "with a heavy heart," not to renew Reade's contract, saying Reade had been unfairly isolated and criticized by residents.
"Not for one minute do I want you to believe you're incompetent or incapable," Rober said to a weary-eyed Reade during the meeting. "The premise behind my motion is that we've treated you very poorly. My wish is that you're in a safer place than where you are now … I think we've done you wrong."
But Vice Mayor Mark Hashim, one of two council members who supported the renewal of Reade's contract, scolded Rober and defended Reade.
"You spoke favorably about Mr. Reade, but voted against him," he said to Rober. "You're the Grinch that stole Mr. Reade's Christmas, his wife's, his children's and the city of Port Richey's."
Turning to Reade, Hashim continued:
"You're whipped cream on crap, Rich. Run for your life."
Council members Steven O'Neill and Phil Abts also voted against keeping Reade while Perry Bean voted to retain him.
The day after the 3-2 vote, Reade didn't show up for work. Reade, 37, could not be reached Tuesday for comment. His contract expires Dec. 26.
Until a replacement is named, Assistant City Manager Ellen Posivach will act as city manager. Reade will receive three months of severance pay.
Three other applicants turned down the city manager's post before Reade was hired last December after he had reached an impasse with Dade City officials over salary and benefits for the same job there. His one-year contract was for $80,000.
Reade's wife and year-old son stayed at their home in Sanford, about two hours from Port Richey, while Reade lived with relatives in Citrus County and commuted to work in Port Richey.
Monday's special meeting was called to evaluate Reade's progress and decide whether to renew his contract.
But the first half of the meeting was spent debating a crucial oversight: The council hadn't received the proper paperwork to perform Reade's evaluation.
"We were told we're going to have something to make this evaluation with," O'Neill said, "but nothing has crossed my desk."
A motion to perform Reade's evaluation and discuss his contract at a later date failed. Instead, Rober gave residents a chance to voice their opinions about Reade.
"My feeling is that he is impeccably honest, and has a great work ethic," said resident Michael Hogg. "I trust his judgment in all issues I have seen him a part of."
Others were starkly against renewing Reade's contract.
"Mr. Reade has done a terrible job," said resident Patricia Boyer. "He has made the employees of the city frightened ... in general, he has destroyed the very essence of the city."
Then, it was Reade's turn to respond. For half an hour, he talked about what he'd done to further the city's progress, such as hiring an assistant city manager and balancing the budget.
He denied making city workers fearful of him, saying he holds them accountable for their actions and asks them not to get into "political discussions."
"I've done my job, whether people like it or not," he said. "It's a hard job. A very hard job."
After Reade spoke, boos filled the room. Reade sat quietly.
But other residents told the council they were disappointed that it appeared Reade was going to lose his job.
"You've got a perfectly good person, and it will take months to find another one," said resident Chet Jasak.
After the vote to oust him, Reade quickly left council chambers. Never returning, Bean said, may be the best move Reade has made so far.
"I hope for his sake, and his family's sake, that he runs as fast as he can to another job," Bean said. "These folks do not deserve him."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.