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A Times Editorial

Kuttler's troubling parting demands

Carl Kuttler

Carl Kuttler

St. Petersburg College president Carl Kutt- ler's outsized demands for his retirement package reflect the self-entitlement and arrogance that comes from decades of unilateral decisionmaking. But the idea that two of the college's five trustees appeared ready to rubber stamp his request this week without any documentation is just as troubling. While Kuttler has accomplished much for the college and the community, the school's trustees should not be so quick to write him the check he wants on his way out the door.

Kuttler is seeking $684,000 when he retires Dec. 31, 18 months before his contract expires. It appears less than half of that amount is spelled out by his overly generous contract, which was first signed in 2003 and then amended several times. Kuttler can demand compensation for any unused sick time at his current pay rate, even if the sick time was accrued years ago. He is entitled to payment of up to 70 unused vacation days, and he's seeking about half of that. And just last year, the college agreed to provide him $30,000 upon retirement to purchase a car.

But Kuttler's other demands are a stretch. He claims he is entitled to more than $131,000 for flex time he never took and more than $185,000 for never taking a sabbatical he was allowed. He also says he should be paid for giving up his right to continue to earn his presidential salary by remaining a member of the faculty through the end of his contract in June 2011. While the contract is clear that Kuttler had the right to flex time, the right to a sabbatical and the right to teach, he chose not to exercise those benefits. Why should the college pay him for them on top of everything else?

The trustees' fiduciary responsibility is to the college, not to Kuttler — and too often over the years that distinction has been lost. The eagerness of trustees Evelyn Bilirakis and Richard Johnston to quickly approve a deal with Kuttler on Tuesday reflects the need for the board to re-establish its independence.

Two other board members, Deveron Gibbons and Pinellas Clerk of Circuit Court Ken Burke, expressed appropriate reservations and joined board chairman Terry Brett in voting to delay any action until at least Dec. 15. That should give trustees time to sort out what Kuttler is entitled to and what is just a greedy grab. Looking ahead, the board also should have learned a valuable lesson about overly generous contracts as the search continues for the next college president.

While the ultimate responsibility for determining Kuttler's parting financial package rests with the trustees, Kuttler should also reconsider his position and his legacy. He can look back with pride on the college's remarkable growth, expanded programs and well established place in the community over his three decades as president. Taking the college to the cleaners on his way out would leave a stain.

Kuttler has earned a generous salary and good benefits, including $385,000 this year. Upon retirement, he will receive an annual state pension of between $195,000 and $210,000. He appears entitled by contract to a generous payout. Taxpayers will wonder why that isn't enough. So should the trustees of St. Petersburg College.

Kuttler's troubling parting demands 12/03/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 4, 2009 2:14pm]
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