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Replacing the City Manager:  Pt I – Helfenberger Officially Gone; Foot Dragging City Attorney and City Council Costs Taxpayers Thousands

Photo of a full house in City Hall. The caption reads: the full house in city hall was unaware of the thousands wasted by attorney/council delay
(Columbia County Observer photo and graphic)

LAKE CITY, FL – Monday’s City Council special meeting had hidden deep in the agenda the approval of the final resolution authorizing the removal of City Manager Helfenberger from suspension to the ranks of the unemployed. Delays by City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr. and the City Council cost thousands.


Because of a misreading of the City Ordinance or Resolution regarding the scheduling of meetings, the special meeting to evaluate the performance of the City Manager was not scheduled and noticed as initially requested by Councilmen Sampson and Hill for Friday, June 18. Instead, it was scheduled for Monday, June 21: a 2-day delay.

During the June 21 Council meeting (see: City Manager Joe Helfenberger Suspended for 45 Days Pending a Final Resolution for His Removal ), City Manager Helfenberger was suspended for 45 days.  Then, the recently terminated HR Director was hired as the Interim City Manager.

The City Charter gave City Manager Helfenberger five days after a “preliminary” resolution was delivered to him to file a written request for a public hearing.

If City Manager Helfenberger didn’t respond to the preliminary resolution within five days after it was delivered, the City Council could adopt a final resolution removing him.

More Delay

During the June 21 Council meeting, City Attorney Koberlein told the City Council, “Tomorrow morning, I will go over the audio of this meeting and include the comments of the movant - you, Mr. Sampson, in the preliminary resolution and then get it to Clerk's and Mayor's offices.”

If Attorney Koberlein had done what he said, the preliminary resolution would have been delivered to Mr. Helfenberger on June 22. It wasn’t delivered until June 24; the latest it could have been delivered and still have been in compliance with the City Charter, which gives the Council 3 days to get the preliminary resolution to Mr. Helfenberger.

This delay was another two-day delay.

Cost of Delay: How Much Did City Manager Helfenberger's Termination Cost Lake City?

City Manager Helfenberger’s salary was $129,000. Adding benefits and taxes, estimated to be another 35%, Mr. Helfenberger cost the City’s treasury $83.73hr or $670 per day.

Between the City Clerk and the City Attorney, the four days of delay cost $2,680.

Mr. Helfenberger, through his attorney, responded to the City after noon on June 29.

Among other things, he told the City he was not going to ask for a hearing as long as he received his severance package as agreed to in his contract.

The City Council was now free to act and prepare a final resolution removing him as City Manager. The Mayor or the Council could have called a special meeting for June 30, the next day.

They didn’t.

More delays put taxpayers on the hook for $11,390

Lake City Mayor Steve Witt
Mayor Steve Witt stuck with City Manager Helfenberger to the bitter end.

Instead, they waited from June 30 until Monday night, July 12, to vote on the resolution.

This delay was 13 days, which at $670 per day equals $8,710.

The vote to remove City Manager Helfenberger was 4-1, with Mayor Witt opposed.

The delays caused by the City Clerk, City Attorney, and the City Council total 17 days, or $11,390.


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