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    Official: Substance leads to inquiry

    What was found during a burglary investigation prompts the call for the Clearwater assistant city manager's resignation, a commissioner says.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 4, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Police investigating a burglary at Assistant City Manager Bob Keller's home last week came across a suspicious substance, which prompted interim City Manager Bill Horne to ask him to resign, a city commissioner said Wednesday.

    Commissioner F. David Hemerick said the substance was being tested to see if it is marijuana. Police said they are investigating the burglary but declined to comment on any aspect of the investigation.

    Keller, who has said he will resign, could not be reached to comment about what was found in his home. A Times reporter left messages on his answering machine, knocked on his door and left a note at his home.

    He had not resigned as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, city officials said.

    Earlier Wednesday, Keller declined to comment about what prompted his looming resignation. Keller, who makes a base salary of about $93,000 annually, has directed the city's economic development team of seven employees for the past four years.

    Hemerick said Horne briefed him about Keller's situation last Friday, two days after police responded to a burglary call at Keller's Countryside home. Police entered his home to investigate before Keller and his wife returned from a vacation later that day.

    Hemerick said the chain of events was very unlucky for Keller.

    "I'm sure the investigation will be carried on very correctly," Hemerick said. "When you hang yourself out in the public light, you better be squeaky clean. I'd be afraid to even water my lawn on the wrong day."

    Police have refused to discuss any details of the burglary or related matters. In general, police spokesman Wayne Shelor said, "circumstances would dictate" how any suspicious substance was tested and how long it would take to determine what it was.

    "We wouldn't discuss any part of any active investigation," Shelor said repeatedly.

    Horne said that City Attorney Pam Akin advised him and other city officials not to discuss anything involving the matter.

    Generally, however, Horne said that he would not tolerate a controversy involving a senior administrator and an illegal drug.

    "Any senior employee who would have been involved in what is considered to be illegal activity, whether or not it would be of any consequence in the long run, it would compromise their effectiveness in my opinion," Horne said.

    Horne sent an e-mail to city administrators Wednesday saying Keller has had a good career with the city. "There may be other related issues that will surface in the future that we can't address right now," Horne wrote.

    The city has a policy that gives lower-level employees a second chance if they test positive for illegal drugs, said Paul O'Rourke, the city's human resources administrator. But senior managers are held to a higher standard, he said.

    "If you're a senior manager, you're a role model," O'Rourke said. "You're supposed to provide the source of standards that we inculcate in lower employees."

    Commissioner Bob Clark and Mayor Brian Aungst said in interviews Tuesday and Wednesday that they view the situation as unfortunate. They declined to provide details.

    Speaking hypothetically, Clark said, he couldn't really judge whether a city administrator getting caught with a small amount of an illegal drug would impede the official's ability to do business for the city.

    "This is very difficult to me," Clark said. "I feel Bob (Keller) did more positive things than anyone I dealt with in the five years that I was here. And he's also a friend."

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