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Clearwater fires longtime Parks and Recreation director Kevin Dunbar

The move came after three investigations into the department in a little more than a year.

CLEARWATER ― City Manager Bill Horne on Wednesday announced the firing of longtime Parks and Recreation director Kevin Dunbar following three city investigations in one year that each uncovered mismanagement and oversight lapses in the department.

Horne in particular cited the most recent investigation, into a concert run in part by the city last summer, in an email to city staff and the City Council explaining the move.

“At the conclusion of the review it was determined that there be a separation of employment between the city and Mr. Dunbar and I concurred with that recommendation among other things,” Horne said in the message.

Dunbar, who had served as the Parks and Recreation director since 1999, offered the following statement late Wednesday:

“While I believe much of the information presented to the public did not offer an accurate picture of the events that led to today, I look back favorably on the many positive strides we made to improve the quality of life in our great city over my 20 years. I have so many people in the Tampa Bay community to thank for their friendship and support, people who helped with much of what we were able to accomplish.”

Dunbar’s departure is a major development for Tampa Bay’s third largest city. Clearwater has a larger Parks and Recreation Department than most municipalities: the department has the second largest operating budget in the city, behind only the Police Department. It’s involved in everything from the operation of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday to negotiations for a refurbished Clearwater Phillies stadium to the city’s $64 million plan to redevelop the downtown waterfront.

As the leader of that department, Dunbar earned a salary of $144,293.41 per year.

During his two decades at the helm, Dunbar led several city initiatives. For example, it was under Dunbar that Clearwater transformed itself into an international amateur softball destination.

The veteran manager’s personnel file includes years of rave reviews from superiors: “Kevin is one of the very best department directors I have ever seen,” one superior wrote in a 2005 evaluation.

But in 2018, city investigators began to find problems in Dunbar’s department. The first audit came after the city learned that Bob Carpenter, a former recreation supervisor, had, over a period of years, stolen more than $100,000 in cash from the city. The human resources inquiry found, among other things, that Carpenter’s theft was made easier by the fact that there was no system in place to check whether certain payments were accurately entered into the city’s payment software.

Carpenter pleaded guilty to stealing about $119,000, and in August, he was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Related story: Clearwater parks ‘good ole boys’ bullied women, lost track of cash

A year after that investigation, a September 2019 police report into an unrelated incident at a recreation center found that “while there are procedures in place in regards to how to conduct transactions, it does not appear that they are being followed.”

After the 2018 audit, Horne fired Carpenter’s supervisor and issued Dunbar and a deputy formal letters of admonishment for their “failure to ensure appropriate oversight and internal control.” The Carpenter incident was so embarrassing for the city that Horne denied himself, Dunbar and two other city higher-ups the opportunity for a 2019 pay raise.

Next came an investigation into Dunbar himself. In January, City Auditor Yvonne Taylor found that the director misused his position one day in 2017 when he had two city employees fix his home sprinkler system after hours without paying them.

That audit caused Horne to issue Dunbar another letter of admonishment.

“Another breach of my confidence will result in termination of your employment regardless of basis in findings or facts,” Horne wrote in the second letter.

Related story: Audit report: Clearwater Parks and Rec director misused position when employees worked at his home without pay

That breach of confidence came this fall, when yet another city audit of one concert found that the Parks and Recreation Department’s special events division mishandled cash and altered a city contract without getting approval from the City Council. The audit found that the department made the city lose out on about $263,000 that it would have made from the concert had it followed its contract.

The report, which was also prepared by Taylor, found widespread issues with cash handling at the June 2018 ZZ Top and John Fogerty concert. For example, a city ticketing vendor’s software showed $24,448 in cash ticket sales on the day of the event. The city only deposited $12,775 into its bank account. Investigators could find no documentation that could explain the discrepancy.

Related story: Clearwater lost $263,000 due to contract changes, bad bookkeeping, audit says

Related story: Do Coachman Park concerts make or cost Clearwater money? The city doesn’t know

In a Nov. 22 letter written in response to the audit, Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell and human resources director Jennifer Poirrier recommended termination for Dunbar, and formal discipline for Parks and Recreation deputy director Art Kader and special events manager Kris Koch.

On Wednesday, Horne acted on those recommendations. Koch and Kader will each get counseling from the city, and Koch will serve a one-day suspension.

“We must strive to be fair and consistent in our interactions with the public and our employees,” Horne wrote in Wednesday’s letter. “Threats to those principles are not acceptable now or in the future.”

With Dunbar’s departure, the city will be forced to press on with major initiatives while it searches for a permanent Parks and Recreation director. The city is in ongoing negotiations with Pinellas County over funding for improvements to Spectrum Field, the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies. And Coachman Park is the site of the proposed centerpiece of Imagine Clearwater.

Horne said Kader would replace Dunbar on an interim basis.