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Leaders to take measure of Belleair manager

The last time the commission discussed Steve Cottrell's performance was in 1999, when it renewed his initial 1997 contract.

Published September 20, 2005

BELLEAIR - For the first time in six years, the Belleair Commission will formally discuss Town Manager Steve Cottrell's performance.

Questions about Cottrell arose last month after Commissioner Gary Katica and Mayor George Mariani Jr. asked him to resign.

The commission will discuss Cottrell's annual evaluation at 7:30 on Wednesday.

After voicing his disappointment with Cottrell's performance last month, Mariani wrote a letter to Cottrell, citing Cottrell's "condescending, sarcastic and unresponsive" attitude toward residents and his failure to keep the commission informed.

The rest of the five-member commission has stood behind Cottrell. Commissioner Stephen Fowler said it was "ludicrous" to look for a town manager in the middle of town issues like the fate of the Bellevue Biltmore.

Commissioners have reviewed Cottrell's performance annually by filling out questionnaires, but the last time the commission actually discussed Cottrell's performance was in 1999, when it voted on his salary and benefits and renewed his initial 1997 contract.

Mariani also commented on Cottrell's 1999 employment agreement, which Cottrell recently altered - without commission approval - to reflect his current salary of $86,881.60 and benefits. Cottrell had given the revised three-year agreement to new Commissioner Tom Shelly and other commissioners. Those alterations were "straws that broke the camel's back," Mariani said.

Cottrell said he calculated his merit increases, which were capped at 3 percent, using the scores from each commissioner's review and converting them to a 3-point scale. Both Mariani and Katica said they had no idea how Cottrell's salary was determined.

"This document is clearly "manufactured' by you, and I will leave it to the town's attorney or law enforcement to determine if it is forgery, fraud or any other malfeasance of office," Mariani wrote in his letter.

Fowler said he knew exactly how Cottrell's increases were calculated and that his salary was clearly outlined in the budget.

"The process of employee reviews by the commission were sanctioned and ratified by their actions when they approved the '99 agreement," Cottrell said. "All of the cost of living and merit increases I have subsequently received are no different than those the rest of town employees enjoy."

After reviewing Cottrell's contract and employee file at Mariani's request, Town Attorney David Ottinger recommended that the commission thoroughly review and evaluate Cottrell annually as required by his contract.

Ottinger wrote that it was "inappropriate" for Cottrell to amend his contract, and he should have provided a separate explanation of increases and benefit changes. But he added he did not think Cottrell was deliberately deceptive.

He also said that, using Cottrell's system, the raises were calculated correctly.

Katica, Fowler, Commissioner Bonnie Ruggles and former Commissioner Ernst Upmeyer gave Cottrell favorable ratings this year. Mariani's overall rating for Cottrell was satisfactory, but gave low marks for his attitude toward residents and his ability to work with commissioners.

Katica initially moved for Cottrell's removal in May, saying he failed to keep the commission informed about plans for the Belleview Biltmore, but his motion died.

Mariani called Cottrell shortly after that commission meeting, suggesting a "career move," according to his letter to Cottrell.

Cottrell initially wrote the commission Sept. 15 saying he would resign with a five-month severance package, but changed his mind.

Cottrell also wrote that he was now "somewhat ambivalent" about whether to continue his service to the town.

[Last modified September 20, 2005, 01:55:19]

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