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Special Madeira Beach commission meeting to address city attorney's status

MADEIRA BEACH — The City Commission appears intent on dismissing City Attorney Michael Connolly, who has come under fire for his perceived role in the termination of former City Manager W. D. Higginbotham, Jr.

The newly seated commission will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday to consider, among other things, the "status of (the) city attorney."

Connolly became city attorney in 2005 and is paid a $4,200 monthly retainer and $185 an hour for special legal services. He received $66,500 last year.

Jim Madden, who was city manager from 2002 to 2004, when he was fired by the commission, has sued the city over its decision to terminate Higginbotham. He called the city attorney a "potted plant" for his role in Higginbotham's termination.

Madden claims Connolly "was part of the scam" by not telling the commission that its termination vote would trigger a six-month severance package for Higginbotham totaling more than $78,000.

Last month, rather than resign, Higginbotham requested the city commission terminate his contract because he believed he could not work effectively with the incoming commission.

On Tuesday, that new commission took office and immediately began to change the way its meetings are run.

Previously, residents were allowed up to three minutes to speak on any topic, and comments from the commission and staff were prohibited. When commission members spoke separately later, residents were not allowed to respond.

Newly elected Mayor Travis Palladeno made a point Tuesday to ask city staff members to respond immediately and directly to each resident as they rose to speak.

Connolly's role in the Higginbotham termination was one of the topics residents addressed Tuesday.

"I have been present for six commissions, and I have seen city managers fired and seen city managers resign, but I have never seen it done both ways," said resident Dick Lewis during the public comment session.

"Mr. City Attorney, do you have any comment?" asked Palladeno.

"I had nothing to do with the city manager's decision," Connolly replied.

Last month, Connolly said the only recourse for the commission would be to rescind its resolution terminating Higginbotham, which would put his contract with the city "in full force and effect."

If Madden's suit is successful, it would force the commission to do just that.

Joe Jorgenson, a supporter of newly elected Palladeno and Commissioner Robin Vander Velde, as well as returning Commissioner Nancy Oakley, has e-mailed commissioners protesting their Higginbotham decision and calling for "backroom deals" to be "brought out in the open."

Resident Bill Mohns called Connolly "professionally remiss" by not explaining the ramifications of the commission's vote to terminate Higginbotham.

"The city attorney did the city wrong," Linda Horner wrote in an e-mail to the commission, adding that after the February vote, Connolly told her he had talked to Higginbotham before the meeting and "knew what he was going to do."

In addition to reviewing Connolly's contract, which allows cancellation with 30 days notice, the commission on Tuesday will discuss finding a permanent city manager to replace Bill Mallory, who is interim city manager and fire chief.

Last week, Palladeno said he was impressed with Mallory's performance and would like to consider him for the permanent job.

The commission also plans to review an official audit of the city's 2009-2010 finances.

A majority of the new commissioners, as well as Madden, were highly critical last summer of the city budget proposed by Higginbotham and his staff.

In an unrelated matter, former fire Chief Derryl O'Neal also has sued the city, asking for $2,500 in damages, interest, costs and attorney fees relating to his 2009 firing by Higginbotham.

He claims the city has refused to pay him for unused vacation and medical leave time because they claim he did not return a city-owned pager.

Special Madeira Beach commission meeting to address city attorney's status 03/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 5:31am]
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