Commissioners fired their treasurer and finance director, Marty Schless, on Tuesday over what they described as repeated mistakes that led the city to many of its current financial woes.
"I have no problem with your comments," Schless said after commissioners repeatedly criticized his performance. "I have made some of them myself, but I think I have turned the corner and would like the opportunity to prove that."
Schless' plea was unsuccessful as a commission majority voted to fire him.
Commissioners Cookie Kennedy, Bert Valery and Terry Hamilton Wollin voted to fire Schless, while Mayor R.B. Johnson and Commissioner Daniel Torres were opposed.
"Although I find Marty to be a delightful person, I really don't feel he is adequate to the task we have," said Wollin, adding that the city "is really paying the price" for Schless' actions and "inconsistency" as finance director.
All commissioners appeared to agree that when Schless was hired in 2005, he did not have any municipal finance qualifications.
"It is not his fault that he was hired without that experience. That is the fault of the people that hired him," said Wollin.
Valery first called for Schless to be dismissed this summer. At the time he said he had "lost faith" in Schless, particularly over major financial problems in the city's sewer and garbage funds.
Rob Garner, a consultant hired to examine the city enterprise funds, said the city's budgeting practices did not recognize early enough that the cash reserves were disappearing.
From 2001 to 2007, the funds lost $1.1-million and spent $1.6-million to pay for operations. The city covered the losses with advances from the general fund.
Depleted general fund reserves and continuing red ink in its sewer and garbage funds forced the commission to significantly increase utility fees and hike property taxes by about 20 percent.
Then because of erroneous advice from Schless, an embarrassed commission was forced to redo its vote on the city budget and property tax rate.
Valery presented a long list of what he viewed as Schless' faults, including poor communication with some commissioners, "poor accounting practices" and failure to attend some meetings.
He also criticized Schless for his role in a $13,124.28 check paid to former City Manager Al Grieshaber Jr. for undocumented relocation expenses and compensation time. The city subsequently sued Grieshaber, seeking return of the money. The case is pending.
Valery described Schless as a "very likable, affable fellow" who could easily be a Santa Claus but who did not have the qualifications to be a city finance director.
"I haven't changed my position," Valery said Tuesday. "Marty has shown definite improvement over the summer, but it is not enough."
Kennedy said the city used "bad judgment" in hiring Schless when he did not have the appropriate experience.
Schless had served as director of finance and human resources at a Clearwater research company and as controller at a Maryland-based manufacturing company. He holds a degree in accounting and management science.
In a memo he sent to the commission before Tuesday's performance review, Schless listed "positive steps" he has taken as the city's finance director.
Mayor Johnson defended him, saying he felt Schless could do the job.
So did Commissioner Torres: "We have trained him. He did not have experience and now he does. There were glaring things that should not have happened, but it has been getting better."
At one point, Schless was asked if he would be willing to stay on while the commission sought a replacement.
"I would be very uncomfortable," he replied.
Schless is expected to continue working for at least a month as called for in his employment contract. He could not be reached for comment.
The city staff is planning to advertise for his successor.