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Civility, decisionmaking rule at City Council meeting

Civility erupted at the Crystal River City Council meeting Monday night, disrupting the disagreeable reputation the council has spent years building.

"Sometimes," a beaming council member Ed Tolle said after the meeting, "things just come together."

The panel promoted the public works director to city manager, extended the police chief's contract and charted an action plan to combat trashy lawns and junky cars that litter the city.

The meeting was a milestone for the council, which includes three new members elected in December with promises to bring harmony to the panel. So far, members have found plenty of issues to be unharmonious about.

That changed Monday in a meeting the new city manager called the most professional he has seen in some time.

Council members voted unanimously for the code enforcement plan, which they sparred over last month. They unanimously invited police Chief Ray Kaminskas to stay with the city for two more years _ an employment contract they turned down in February.

And while the vote to hire public works director Russ Kreager as the new Crystal River city manager wasn't quite unanimous, Richard Brady, the one council member to dissent, pledged support for Kreager.

Kreager began his duties Tuesday, although he still will oversee the public works department until a new department head is selected. His hiring allows interim City Manager George Zoettlein to resume his post as finance director.

Kreager's promotion comes with a 5 percent pay increase, bringing his annual salary to $51,471 and making him the highest-paid employee at City Hall.

Council members eliminated the probation customary for new city managers, deciding that Kreager's track record as public works director made a probation unnecessary. Kreager has been public works director since 1992.

Also Monday night, the council voted 5-0 to extend Kaminskas' contract as police chief until March 2000. When approached with the same contract two months ago, council members Brady, Mike Gudis and Levi Phillips voted against it and opted to give Kaminskas a six-month contract instead.

The three council members reversed their votes Monday. Both Brady and Gudis encouraged the chief to become more involved in Crystal River.

"Although it's very important for the city manager to get out in the community . . . it's almost as equally important for the police chief to do the same thing," Gudis said. "I think in a relatively small city government like this, it's important."

Brady echoed Gudis' concerns about Kaminskas' community involvement. He also said his regular visits with the chief have helped him understand how the Police Department works.

"As I get to know him more and more on an individual basis, I like what I see," Brady said.

Kaminskas said Tuesday he will accept the council's contract offer.

The council also devised a solution to its squabbles over how aggressively city staff should enforce laws against junked vehicles and other trash collecting in yards. The city will have a cleanup day sometime in May and allow people to discard all trash collecting in their yards and homes _ including junked vehicles.

Mayor Curtis Rich, who proposed the idea and a way to pay for it, said volunteer groups will be invited to help with the cleanup.

"There are people out there who are not either physically or financially able to clean the property up and get their goods to the right of way," Rich said.

The city will use its code enforcement legal fund, which has accumulated about $10,000, to pay for overtime and equipment costs associated with the cleanup.

The fund was intended to pay for legal costs accrued by the code enforcement board. But the board, assembled three years ago, has never heard a case.

The council decided Monday to begin aggressive code enforcement following the cleanup day and call the code enforcement board into service.

Not everyone agreed with the council's decisions. City resident George DeLuhy urged council members to keep looking for a city manager if they had not yet found a qualified candidate.

But council members did, at least, agree with each other, and compared to Crystal River's recent history, agreeability is quite a feat.

"I'd just like to comment on the wisdom that this council has shown tonight," Tolle told colleagues. "This is very gratifying to me to see this council come together."

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