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St. Pete Beach approves open contract for city manager with reduced severance

ST. PETE BEACH — City Manager Mike Bonfield has a new, open-ended contract with the City Commission, but it includes a sharply reduced severance package.

According to the new contract passed by the commission last week, Bonfield will get six months' pay if the commission were to ask him to leave for any reason except "cause."

That is only half the severance package he wanted.

The commission voted 3-2 (with Commissioners Jim Parent and Al Halpern voting against the reduced terms) last week to renew Bonfield's contract, which otherwise would expire in January.

Bonfield's previous contract, originally established when he was hired in 2002, included a two-year, renewable term.

That severance agreement required the city to pay whatever was left on the contract — potentially up to the two year contract term.

At his request, Bonfield's new contract is open-ended and continues indefinitely until canceled by either party on a 60-day notice.

Bonfield told the commission that normally he would have asked for a new contract five months ago, but because of the March election, he decided to wait.

"I didn't want to become a political issue," Bonfield said.

Bonfield, who interviewed last month for a city manager job in Alabama, asked that his contract be converted from a fixed term to an open contract.

He told the commission the changes would bring his contract "more in line with standard city manager contracts."

As with the previous contract, if he were to resign voluntarily, he would get nothing beyond unused vacation and sick pay.

Bonfield currently makes $117,180.96 a year and will be considered for a raise this summer when the commission discusses next year's city budget.

He has not received a raise for the past four years.

Last March, Bonfield received generally high ratings during a job performance review by the commission. Overall, Bonfield received a 4.45 rating, half-way between a "very good" and an "excellent."

That high level of satisfaction with Bonfield was echoed by the commission last week.

"Generally, I am not in favor of employment contracts at all, so my druther is no contract and be employed at will, but I think very highly of the work you have done and I support you fully," said Parent, who favored Bonfield's version of the new contract.

"This is a unique profession," said Halpern. "There was a time with a previous commission that he almost lost a job. With a job that is dependent at our whims, I don't have a problem with (12 months)."

During the debate, Bonfield reminded the commission that when he was hired "the city was a mess."

"I had to have some protection … I stuck with the city through tough times. I thought my request was warranted," Bonfield said.

But Mayor Steve McFarlin, Vice Mayor Bev Garnett and Commissioner Marvin Shavlan thought, albeit apologetically, quite differently.

"I think Mike has done a great job, but I am not used to severance packages. I personally think a year is a long time. I am more comfortable with six months," Shavlan said.

Garnett said she was uncomfortable with a full year severance package, as well.

"I support you 100 percent," Garnett told Bonfield. "It is not about you."

McFarlin said he appreciates what Bonfield is doing for the city, but agreed a six-month severance was a more digestible number.

St. Pete Beach approves open contract for city manager with reduced severance 05/31/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 5:42pm]
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