ST. PETE BEACH — City Manager Mike Bonfield got a cost-of-living raise Tuesday, but not without a sometimes bitter re-emergence of political infighting that has long disrupted this city.
After a long debate and sometimes heated comments from the audience, the City Commission voted 3-2 to give Bonfield a $2,308.46 one-time cost-of-living adjustment — the first raise he has received since January 2007.
Mayor Mike Finnerty and Commissioner Christopher Leonard opposed the 3.94 percent raise because, they said, it was not the right thing to do in these economic times.
"I have shown considerable support for the city manager time after time through some storms, but I am not in favor of giving a COLA at this time. It's nothing personal; I am just not in favor of a raise for anyone at this time," Finnerty said.
Leonard said it was a "tough decision" given the "current market conditions."
The other three commissioners argued that it would be insulting to Bonfield not to give him the increase.
"A cost-of-living raise is not a reward for doing good; it's just a recognition of existence," said Commissioner Jim Parent.
Commissioner Beverly Garnett said she "got a lot of phone calls overwhelmingly in favor" of Bonfield's raise.
"Mike has been persecuted the last few years and has not been treated fairly," she said. "He has performed under fire and shown grace. It is embarrassing we are having this discussion."
Commissioner Al Halpern questioned why Bonfield would not qualify for the raise when other employees did.
Audience members were split between praising Bonfield's job performance and blaming him for everything they see wrong in the city.
Lorraine Huhn, head of Save Our Little Village, said that not giving Bonfield a raise when all other city employees received one would be a "discriminatory practice."
Resident Carol Walker also supported the raise. "I can't believe what I am hearing," she said. "He has led this city through so many speed bumps and minefields over the years. He has already sacrificed for this community in so many ways."
Others were adamantly opposed to giving Bonfield any kind of raise.
"Many people in this community have lost jobs. It is almost a selfish act to go before the rest of the community to say I deserve this, it's due me," said resident Deborah Schechner.
"This is kind of like those AIG guys who got that big bonus, just on a different scale," said Schechner, warning the commission that "voters will not forget."
Former Commissioner Harry Metz called Bonfield "too greedy to give up the COLA raise" instead of setting an example for city staffers and residents concerned about the recession.
Metz, a constant critic of Bonfield for two years, also accused the city manager of "using city time" to play golf.
Bonfield sat quietly through most of the discussion, but in the end let his anger show.
"This ongoing personal attack and character assassination with no basis is going to do nothing but further destroy this community, and I don't want any part of it," Bonfield said.
Most of what Metz claimed was "a complete falsehood" and "complete hogwash," he said.
He confirmed that he had played golf on several afternoons but used vacation time.
"This is the kind of discussion that keeps us where we don't want to be," Bonfield said.