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City ends dispute with ex-manager

Crystal River officials split 3-2 in favor of collecting $67 from Russell Kreager, who was fired in February 1999. The money covers about two days worth of disputed benefits.

A divided Crystal River City Council voted this week to end the long-standing dispute between the city and former City Manager Russell Kreager.

The council voted to ask Kreager to pay them back the approximately $67 that Kreager's attorney Jim Neal said months ago that he might owe the city.

City officials had failed to ask for that payment at the time, leaving the door open to possible legal action to force Kreager to reimburse the city for $8,000 it had to pay for his unemployment benefits.

On Monday evening, City Attorney Clark Stillwell told council members that they might have had to pay considerably more if Kreager had gone to federal court, something he considered because he was never given a chance to answer charges against him when he was fired in February 1999.

Stillwell said Kreager may now realize that "he settled too cheap and too quick" when he agreed to a $23,000 settlement with the city two months after that termination.

That settlement had included a clause that Kreager wouldn't seek unemployment compensation, but he did and the state awarded it.

Council member Paula Wheeler said she was "kind of miffed," by Stillwell's comments Monday. She said he had a different tone in his private conversations with her about the Kreager case. But Stillwell defended himself saying he had always maintained that Kreager's contract was legal and enforceable.

At one point, council member Kyle "Joe" Chrietzberg said he wanted the issue settled at the next regular council meeting later this month, but council member Ray Wallace made a motion to collect the $67 from Kreager that was owed. Mike Gudis quickly seconded the motion.

The amount roughly equates to two days of benefits in dispute, Stillwell said.

The motion passed 3-2 with Wheeler and Alex Ilnyckyj voting against it. The audience erupted in applause after the vote. Wheeler and Ilnyckyj had voted to fire Kreager and have disputed his unemployment claims since then.

_ Information from Times files used in this report.