BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville City Council set the blame for the accidental sale of the city’s water tower firmly at the feet of city manager Mark Kutney Monday evening, when they voted 3 to 2 to terminate his contract.
Council member Betty Erhard joined the newest council members, Blake Bell and David Bailey, in voting to end Kutney’s nearly four-year tenure as city manager. Bell and Bailey had first attempted to terminate Kutney soon after they took office late last year.
All three questioned when Kutney knew of the mistake and how he handled it afterwards.
Bell focused on when Kutney knew that the city’s sale of a building and parking spaces on water tower property had actually included the water tower. Kutney said he learned of the mistake May 20. But an email from the property appraiser’s office sent to Kutney April 21, just days after the sale, noted that the property was not subdivided.
The email, Bell said, “would flag questions for me.”
Council member Robert Battista, who did not support the termination, said that the property appraiser wouldn’t know the properties were separated until formal documents about the sale were filed with the Clerk of Court. He also said that such clerical errors were not uncommon.
Bobby Read purchased the property and parking spaces for $55,000 to open a gym, but he later found out about the mistake, giving him ownership of the city’s water tower as well. Read later deeded the tower back to the city at no cost.
Kutney defended his record, saying he has helped the city through a significant financial crisis. When questioned about who was to blame for the mistake, Kutney said that while unnamed staff made the error, he said that as city manager, he took ultimate responsibility.
Bailey said he learned of the accidental water tower sale from social media, and he said that “Brooksville is the laughing stock of the country” after media outlets picked up the story. Bell said he learned about the sale from a reporter. Erhard said that communicating with the city manager had always been one of her problems with Kutney.
Several local residents and business owners urged the council to take action against Kutney. John Lee, who has been posting about the water tower on Facebook, said that Read was an honest person for simply returning the tower to the city.
“What happened here was incompetence from the city manager,” Lee said.
Bailey called the error a $4 million mistake and attempted to get a motion to terminate Kutney without severance for that error.
The majority of the council settled on asking him to resign. Kutney said he would not run out on his staff and refused.
They then voted to terminate him.
Immediately after the vote, Mayor Pat Brayton, who was on the losing side of the motion, called a 20-minute recess. Kutney left City Hall during that recess and when the council reconvened, they chose Fire Chief Ron Snowberger to serve as acting city manager.