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Officials describe manager's problems

The Crystal River City Council decides to find a new city manager when David Sallee's contract expires in June.

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- David Sallee lost his job Monday after the City Council voted not to renew his contract when it expires and begin immediately a search for a replacement, who will become the eighth city manager in 11 years.

The decision upset some of Sallee's supporters and pleased a few in the audience. But it surprised no one.

Council members Joe Chrietzberg, Mike Gudis, Russ Kreager and Ray Wallace sided against Sallee, while Bonnie Taylor voted for him.

Gudis, who did most of the talking, provided an array of reasons for the dismissal, from Sallee's use of search firms to fill job vacancies to his "knowledge" of selective enforcement of the building and zoning regulations.

Sallee acknowledged his administration got off to a rough start, attributing it to circumstances out of his control, but said the city has made significant strides since then.

He pointed to the highly regarded staff he had assembled as proof the search firms were worth the expense, about $16,000.

Though Sallee said he will more aggressively pursue other jobs, he said he intends to serve the rest of his contract, which expires June 6.

His supporters lobbed personal attacks at council members, asserting that the council colluded to bring down Sallee because he would not heed personal agendas.

"This has been conjured up because you people can't control him," former council member Alex Ilnyckyj said. "People are not going to take this sitting down. One person can't continuously control the city."

Anti-Sallee forces were more visible than they had been in previous meetings dealing with the manager, though they offered few direct criticisms.

William Moore, one of many residents at the standing room-only meeting, pointed out that the city charter states that the manager serves at the will of the council and that the council does not have to provide reasons for termination.

Since November, when the council indicated it would not renew Sallee's contract, critics have demanded a public explanation.

Kreager and Chrietzberg were largely silent Monday night, and Gudis said he had not wanted to embarrass Sallee but was forced to air his concerns because of the public outcry.

"I'm damned if I do, and I'm damned if I don't," he said. "I think once people understand what my concerns were, hopefully they will trust I made the right decision."

Among Gudis' concerns and assertions:

Sallee did not arrange a presentation with engineering firms interested in working on the city's $4.3-million grant to replace septic systems. Instead, the council was asked to approve a firm without considering the others.

Sallee was slow to realize the city's accounting records were in disarray after the departure of finance director George Zoettlein.

Sallee damaged morale of rank-and-file employees when he recommended department heads get four weeks of vacation.

Sallee's retirement contribution is 24 percent of his salary, putting his combined salary and benefits at about $93,000.

Sallee had an answer for most of the charges. For example, he attributed the finance problems to high turnover in that department.

"There is not anything here of major substance," he said.

Sallee's supporters are convinced the council has been grooming Zoettlein for the job. But Zoettlein, who now works for Hernando County, said he is happy where he is.

"You know what goes on there with how they change city managers and the political atmosphere," Zoettlein said of Crystal River.

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