Debate focuses on St. Pete Beach city manager's ouster

Published May 1 2014

ST. PETE BEACH — More than 100 bitterly divided residents turned out Wednesday night to both praise and castigate the City Commission's official ouster of City Manager Mike Bonfield.

The standing-room-only special meeting was punctuated with catcalls, loud protests and frequent applause from both pro- and anti-Bonfield factions. He did not attend the meeting.

Despite constant reminders to speak only about the proposed severance package, most residents managed to make their opinions clear.

"The city has bled for years," said former Commissioner Lorraine Huhn, a Bonfield supporter, asking that residents refrain from the "toxicity" she believes has taken over the city.

"I hope the next city manager can truly bring the city together," said Deborah Scheckner, who agreed with Bonfield's ouster.

After speaking, more than 50 of those opposed to Bonfield's removal gathered outside to sign an impromtu informal petition to recall Mayor Maria Lowe from office, an action that by state law cannot happen for at least nine months.

At the end of the meeting, newly elected Commissioner Greg Premer, who voted against removing Bonfield, called for Lowe to resign herself "for the good of the city."

She refused — to loud applause from supporters.

"There are those who want to applaud us and others who want nothing else but to tear us down," Lowe said.

Lowe flatly denied any violation of the Sunshine Law in deciding to push for Bonfield to be fired and called on residents to support whoever is eventually chosen to replace him.

After more than an hour of debate, the commission unanimously granted Bonfield a severance package valued at over $100,000 in exchange for his agreeing to resign and not sue the city. He had been city manager for more than 12 years.

Meanwhile, the city's finance director, Elaine Edmunds, was given an 18 percent salary increase to serve as interim manager.

The commission also agreed to hold a special election in August to replace Commissioner Jim Parent, who resigned last week in protest after the commission voted to fire Bonfield.