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City manager learns fate tonight

Crystal River City Manager David Sallee is expected to lose his job in a council vote tonight.

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- David Sallee, guarded and self-effacing in his role as city manager, displayed a candid side during a recent meeting with residents of Woodland Estates.

If Public Works Director Buddy Holshouser resigned, Sallee "didn't think he could overcome that and he would probably leave too," recalled Tommy Outlaw, who was in the audience at that meeting.

There is a good chance Sallee will leave, but not before his No. 2 man and not by his own will. The City Council is expected to fire Sallee tonight, ending a seven-month ground war that has grown more intense in recent weeks.

Council members, who have been criticized for not fully airing their thoughts in public, are cautious about talking about their feelings before the meeting, but interviews conducted last week suggest Sallee may take a fall.

"My feelings right now are not favorable to him. I've got a week to think about it but right now, it's not in his favor," council member Ray Wallace said. "I've got a lot of concerns."

"There's a perception out there that Mr. Sallee feels confident with employees liking the city manager," said Russ Kreager, who joined the council in January. "There are problems with employee morale out there."

Like chairman Mike Gudis, Joe Chrietzberg said he had "concerns" with Sallee but declined to elaborate until tonight's meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

But Chrietzberg offered a statement in which he raised several questions, including these:

If we wish for a five-year city manager contract, is Mr. Sallee the city manager we want for the next five years?

If the city allows time to conduct a four-month extensive search with a powerful contract in hand, will it find a stronger candidate than Mr. Sallee for the position?

Only one council member, Bonnie Taylor, indicated that she may lean toward keeping Sallee. She noted various grants Sallee has helped obtain for the city, including $4.3-million to replace 515 septic tanks with central sewer lines.

"We've got to have somebody who is capable of following through with things that have been started so far," Taylor said. "And we just might have that person already."

Unsure of what decision to make, Taylor has gotten on her bike to visit neighbors for a broader opinion. She has heard a similar refrain: Sallee inherited numerous problems, such as high employee turnover and faulty financial computer software that has been linked to a disastrous audit.

Sallee has been credited for bringing aboard professional staff members, including Holshouser, and though computer problems still exist, the accounting woes have largely disappeared.

The audit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was rated a B-plus, up from a D-minus.

Hiring new staff members has not been cheap. Sallee has spent more than $16,000 to search for a police chief, a public works director and a finance director. In the eyes of his detractors, Sallee delegates too often to these officials.

While many applauded Sallee and his staff for the audit, some council members say the report is not as shining as it appears.

"I don't see a B-plus on this audit," Kreager said. "I think the auditing crew did not do their job." He said he is concerned that some of the enterprise funds have lost revenue in the past two years.

Tonight's meeting will likely be packed with Sallee's supporters. More than 600 people have signed a petition calling for the council to renew his contract.

Outlaw, the Woodland Estates resident, said the petition was an exercise in futility. "I don't think it makes any difference what the citizens say, the council is going to fire him. That's been in the works for months."

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