Carl Kuttler may have done a fine job as St. Petersburg College's president for 31 years, but his messy departure is tarnishing his record. As Kuttler prepares to retire at the end of the year, his claims for piles of cash in addition to the $195,000 to $210,000 annual pension he'll receive suggest he's more interested in padding his retirement than preserving his legacy. Fortunately, most of the college's typically pliant trustees are paying more attention to the public interest and demanding answers before signing more big checks.
The numbers are moving targets. Initially, Kuttler claimed to be owed $684,000 for unused vacation and sick time, a sabbatical he didn't use and a car. A majority of the board refused to approve the quick deal, although two trustees were willing to grant Kuttler a substantial sum without supporting materials. The board's attorney, Joe Lang, had recommended trustees pay Kuttler $500,000 with little documentation.
Now it turns out Kuttler already has been paid $306,065 for unused sick time. But Lang says Kuttler is owed even more. Yet, all the records to back up Kuttler's demands have not yet been collected or analyzed, which prompts the question of how Kuttler and Lang were so sure of their numbers in the first place.
Regardless, Kuttler is going to receive a substantial payout. His contract is overly generous — a situation the trustees should remedy when they hire his successor. But Kuttler tried to wring big bucks out of the college that go well beyond his contract's terms, such as $185,788 for an unused six-month sabbatical. The sabbatical claim is now off the table only because the trustees showed some skepticism and backbone.
At this week's meeting, the trustees appropriately responded to the continued confusion by asking the state attorney general and an independent employment lawyer to review Kuttler's contract. It's clear the trustees can no longer rely on advice from Lang, who is acting as though he represents Kuttler rather than the college. In a written recommendation, Lang said Kuttler's numbers deserve the benefit of the doubt. He urged a $679,765 payout with some of that money subject to an independent audit — basically the sum that Kuttler had initially sought.
Kuttler served the college and the community well, and he will be well compensated for his service in retirement. But the trustees should continue to demand documentation and resist rubber-stamping a settlement that is not financially responsible.