ST. PETE BEACH — Residents here were reminded this week that elections have consequences — in this case the surprise move to fire longtime city manager Mike Bonfield.
On Tuesday, newly elected Mayor Maria Lowe and Commissioner Terri Finnerty, supported by veteran Commissioner Melinda Pletcher, voted to oust Bonfield.
Their action prompted the abrupt resignation of Commissioner Jim Parent and sharp criticism from newly elected Commissioner Greg Premer, who said he also considered resigning but decided to remain on the commission to honor the residents who just elected him in March.
"The decision was made in haste," Premer said to loud and sustained applause from a packed audience at a special meeting Wednesday night.
The latest upheaval in the city's government is a clear reflection of more than a decade of political and legal fighting — costing nearly $2 million — over whether the city should grow as a significant tourist destination or retain a small-town character focused first on its residents but with a strong tourist and commercial contingent.
Lowe said Wednesday that she had been considering the move against Bonfield for some time, but only made up her mind this week.
She said her actions came from a desire to remove the "stranglehold" that litigation has had on the city's redevelopment.
"Change is never easy," she said, stressing that residents do not need to be fearful of the change.
Lowe said she wants a fresh perspective for the city, while Finnerty called for an era of change and a new city manager who has energy and is proactive in addressing issues.
"The city is not in a good place right now," said Pletcher.
Bonfield he did not appear at the Wednesday meeting, instead proposing he voluntarily resign in exchange for the city guaranteeing that he receive his full severance package as outlined in his contract.
"I have fully enjoyed my 12-plus years working in St. Pete Beach and am proud of the many things that have been accomplished," Bonfield wrote in an email to the commission. "I fully respect your decision to make a change in leadership and wish you and the community well in all future endeavors."
Under the proposed agreement, Bonfield would receive six months' salary, benefits and accrued sick and vacation time, a package totaling $104,495, as well as six months' worth of premiums for health, dental and life insurance.
Under city rules, Bonfield could have requested a public hearing to contest the termination.
Despite the crowded commission chamber Wednesday night, Lowe deferred public debate on the proposed agreement until another special meeting Wednesday.
At that time the commission will also discuss holding a special election to fill Parent's vacant seat.