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Full-time manager's post goes to Cottrell

Only the mayor voted against him after the interim chief changed his mind.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA, Times Correspondent
Published August 19, 2007


In a surprise move, the commission named Steve Cottrell as its permanent city manager Tuesday.

The action was not on the commission's agenda and came after Cottrell informed the city's attorney that he had decided to put his hat back in the ring for consideration for the top post.

The commission was barely a week away from beginning interviews of other candidates.

Cottrell, hired in April as the interim city manager, told the commission last month that he no longer wanted to be considered for the job.

"I was not totally convinced the commissioners are attuned to how the council/city manager form of government is supposed to work, and I guess I am still not totally convinced," Cottrell said Friday.

Cottrell previously served for nine years as city manager in Belleair and as assistant city manager of Plant City for seven years.

He changed his mind about serving permanently in Indian Rocks Beach, Cottrell said, largely because his wife's contract employment ended and after he received the strong support of four commissioners.

The city originally offered a very restrictive contract, largely because of its experience with two former managers - John Coffey and Al Grieshaber Jr.

Coffey resigned under fire for his handling of a dispute over the performance of a popular building official. Grieshaber is being sued by the city to recover money it says was paid for allegedly unearned compensatory pay and improper moving expenses.

Cottrell presented his own contract, that, with a few minor revisions, was approved 4-1 Tuesday.

Only Mayor Bill Ockunzzi voted against Cottrell, arguing that the contract was "over the top" in favoring the city manager over the city. He also objected to being informed by telephone that four commissioners had already agreed to hire Cottrell.

Cottrell will be paid $95,000 a year with a six-month severance package if he is fired without cause before the end of the two-year contract term.

The contract is automatically renewable for another two years unless the commission gives 180 days' notice that it wants to terminate him or renegotiate.

"I feel strongly that this guy is our man," said Commissioner Bert Valery. "I want to get a city manager that the city can count on and who will be here for the next couple of years."

Commissioner Jose Coppen, who frequently challenges city spending practices, said he had no problem with the salary or the proposed contract. "If you want first class, you have to pay for it. I am prepared to sign off on this," he said.

"He has proved himself," said Commissioner R.B. Johnson. "There is always going to be a commissioner who is not as comfortable or as happy. Steve is the best one we have encountered."

Cottrell said Friday that his top priority is to help the commission decide how to close a quarter-million-dollar gap between revenues and expenditures. "I hope to help be a consensus builder," said Cottrell. "Anything they want to get done, we have the resources to do anything here that they and the community may want."

[Last modified August 18, 2007, 22:41:14]

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