Mathieu may do double duty

By CAMILLE C. SPENCER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2007

PORT RICHEY - He's practiced law for half his life, serving municipalities or in private practice.

Soon, City Attorney James Mathieu could be adding interim city manager to his resume.

Last week, City Manager Jerry Calhoun asked Mathieu if he'd be interested in taking over on a temporary basis when Calhoun departs Sept. 7 for a job advising local governments in Iraq.

Mathieu said he has no problem continuing his duties as city attorney and taking over as city manager while candidates are interviewed to permanently fill the position.

"That's what he's recommending, and if City Council wants me to do that, I'll volunteer if they need someone on a short-term basis," said Mathieu, whose live-in girlfriend is council member Nancy Britton. "I know all the employees and the issues and the projects."

But the ultimate decision is up to the City Council, which will discuss the matter Tuesday night.

Even so, Calhoun said he thinks Mathieu was a "logical choice."

"Jim happens to be familiar with city projects, and it didn't make sense to find someone new," he said.

Calhoun said if the council approves the idea, Mathieu, who is paid an $1,800 per month retainer by the city, would receive about $2,600 a month until a replacement for Calhoun arrives. That is about half of Calhoun's pay, for working half time.

Mathieu, 53, said he would stop by City Hall from about 8 a.m. to noon during the week and continue his private practice in Port Richey in the afternoons.

Mathieu admits that taking on the job in the midst of budget season and the city's dredging project will be a tall order. But he said his experience working with city staff will prepare him for the job.

"I don't think it will be a problem," he said. "I have no intention of being city manager. They need someone there, though."

Mathieu said he called the Florida Ethics Commission to make sure that working as both city attorney and manager wouldn't be a conflict of interest.

And according to the commission, it isn't.

"It's not necessarily a conflict of interest for an independent contractor to do additional duties," said Kerrie Stillman, spokeswoman for the organization. "They are not an employee."

Mayor Richard Rober said that as long as the city doesn't violate any ethics codes by allowing Mathieu to take on the interim job, he supports the idea.

"If Mr. Mathieu tells me the state ethics commission doesn't have a problem, I don't either," he said. "We've been working hard not to do goofy things and not get ourselves in hot water."

City to decide

On Tuesday, the City Council will discuss whether to allow James Mathieu, city attorney, to take over as interim city manager. The meeting is at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 6333 Ridge Road.