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Beach city accepts manager's resignation

Calling him a friend and a professional, the City Commission unanimously accepted the resignation Wednesday of City Manager Carl Schwing and approved an $84,811 severance package.

Even Schwing joked that the meeting felt like a wake as commissioners, the city attorney and city residents _ even some who have battled bitterly with Schwing _ took turns applauding his tenure, which lasted 3{ years.

"You're not dead, but I've never heard such a eulogy," resident Jack Ohlhaber told Schwing.

The city manager formally offered his resignation Wednesday after hearing from city commissioners about widespread discontent among top-level staff members at City Hall.

Schwing was on vacation last week while some city commissioners interviewed staff about the nature and severity of the problems.

Some commissioners said they would have supported Schwing if he had opted to work with the staff to alleviate the problems. But Schwing offered his resignation instead.

"If the prospect of success is so dire on the back end, why go through the middle?" Schwing said after Wednesday's meeting.

One commissioner, Jim Myers, was also on vacation last weekend and said he was surprised to learn of the situation when he returned. He offered Schwing an apology for events that led to the resignation, and voted to accept it because Schwing suggested he should.

"How did we get to this point? I honestly don't know," Myers said. "I was on vacation and when I returned, I learned that several commissioners had met with many or all of our department managers and apparently decided that the managers were unhappy with Carl and that Carl should resign. I was left out of the loop of any of these meetings, apparently on purpose. It is also my understanding that Carl was left out of the loop, as he, too, was on vacation."

Commissioners also selected Assistant City Manager Chris Brimo as interim city manager, and instructed him to present a plan for hiring a new top administrator. Commissioner Pete Blank voted against Brimo's selection, suggesting that the city should ask someone from outside City Hall to lead the city during the transition.

Schwing was hired at a pivotal point for St. Pete Beach. Former City Manager Danny Walker had just stepped down amid allegations that he sexually harassed Jane Ellsworth. She received a $110,000 settlement to drop her complaint; Walker received a $74,861 severance package to resign.

City Attorney Jim Devito called Schwing a "real professional" and said the city manager was instrumental in helping to settle a years-old sewer dispute with St. Petersburg, in which St. Pete Beach agreed to pay the mainland city almost $4-million.

"His handling of whatever's gone on here . . . indicates what kind of classy person he is," Devito said.

Even critics changed their tune Wednesday night. City resident Mimi Gewanter, a frequent critic of the city manager and the City Commission, told Schwing: "If you would have had more help from the commission . . . we wouldn't be today in this situation."

Just 24 hours earlier, before learning of Schwing's imminent resignation, Gewanter had told him the city might have to buy him new pants because he was "getting too big for his britches."

Schwing, 45, said after Wednesday's meeting that his next job might be in the private sector. He does not plan to apply for the Pinellas County administrator's job, which is now open, but he might continue living in St. Pete Beach with his wife, Brenda, currently president of the Pass-a-Grille Woman's Club, and two daughters.

"I've been doing this for 20 years now, and I don't know if it's time to look at some other things or not," he said.