Top choice for city manager withdraws

Published May 9, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - The City Council's first pick for a new city manager took himself out of contention Monday night after it was clear that at least two council members had questions about his employment history.

Now the council will negotiate with local applicant Jennene Norman-Vacha, who had received the second-highest vote count from council members last week.

Mitchell Bobowski, former general services director for the city of Seminole, was the council's first choice among three finalists. But as council members considered a proposed contract Monday night, Mayor David Pugh expressed concern that all of Bobowski's work history had not been checked.

Pugh, who had supported Bobowski as his top pick, said he had heard many concerns about the applicant after the vote and, as late as Monday afternoon, he was still hearing information that made him uncomfortable.

City Attorney David La Croix tried to explain some of the discrepancies in Bobowski's paperwork. He mentioned that Bobowski had mistakenly listed the $72, 000 he received as acting city manager in Hazel Park, Mich., as his last salary. He was not receiving that level of pay when he left Hazel Park.

He had also stated that he left his job in Seminole for professional advancement. La Croix explained that Bobowski actually left the job because the department had been reorganized and he chose not to apply for anything in the city at the time.

"We think we got satisfactory answers, " La Croix told the council.

But Pugh wasn't satisfied and he could not support the proposed contract that he and La Croix had worked with Bobowski.

"I don't want to get into it now, " he said, stressing that he wanted to talk to Bobowski about his concerns rather than airing them before the television camera and reporters Monday night.

Council member Lara Bradburn said she would like to hear Pugh's concerns but understood why he didn't want to share them publicly.

"I was aware of the discrepancies last week and I continue to find some things I question, " she said.

She also balked at approving a contract, which was distributed to the council late Monday afternoon, that she had not yet read.

Bradburn said she understood Bobowski had been acting city manager twice in Hazel Park rather than city manager. La Croix said that Bobowski could defend himself on those issues.

But Pugh stopped the discussion.

"I don't want to air any dirty laundry, any accusations, " he said. "He still has to find a job in the area."

Vice Mayor Frankie Burnett also expressed concern about having to vote on a contract he had just received. He suggested that the council members plan a special meeting, giving them time to talk to Bobowski and study the contract. But Bobowski himself cut off that discussion by stepping to the microphone.

He told them that the financial offer in the contract, which included a $75, 000 starting salary, was borderline for him. Listening to the council's discussions clinched his decision.

"I'm not going to enjoy the full support of this council, " he said. "The council is divided."

Bobowski withdrew and wished the council his best in finding a new manager.

Council members then voted 4-1 to begin negotiations with Norman-Vacha, with Richard Lewis casting the sole no vote.

Pugh asked city staff to be sure that the council members had all the information they needed on the applicant before they had to settle on a contract.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or 352 754-6117.