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City Council Approves Ami Fields Interim City Manager Contract (3-2): Contract is Incomplete

Mayor Steve Witt and Councilman Chris Greene with caption: Only Mayor Witt and Councilman Greene recognized the inadequacy of the contract
Columbia County Observer photos and graphic

LAKE CITY, FL – Monday night in City Hall again had Interim City Manager-City Manager issues front and center. The City Council considered Interim City Manager Fields' contract and the search for a permanent city manager.

The first ‘city manager’ item on the City’s docket was the approval of Interim City Manager Fields’ contract, a barely modified copy of former City Manager Joe Helfenberger’s City Manager Contract.

The Contract

Interim City Manager Ami Fields
Ami Fields (file photo)

• Section 2 – Duties and Authority: Ms. Fields will be responsible for employing all other employees of the City, not including the City Clerk and the City Attorney.

• Section 3 – Compensation: Ms. Fields will be paid $120,000. This is the same starting salary as the former city manager.

• Section 5 – General Business Expenses: This section outlines all the “stuff” Ms. Fields gets as interim city manager.

For "business use," Ms. Fields is provided with a laptop computer, software, tablet computer, mobile phone, and use of a City owned vehicle.”

Ms. Fields is on call 24-7 and does not reside in Columbia County. Twice, the Observer reached out to Ms. Fields and inquired if she would be commuting to and from home in the City vehicle. Specifically: "Are you using the city-provided vehicle to drive back and forth from home to work, or are you using it only for job-related transportation once you arrive at work?”

Former City Manager Helfenberger made use of the City vehicle.

City Manager Wendell JohnsonThis morning, your reporter spoke with former Lake City City Manager Wendell Johnson about his use of the City-provided vehicle.

He said, “It was most advantageous for the City and me to use my own vehicle.

Interim City Manager Fields' response: “It’s in my contract.”

• Section 6 – Termination: The termination clause is part of any executive contract and is good business practice, as both parties are kept on the same page.

Termination is what happened to former City Manager Helfenberger.

See: City Manager Joe Helfenberger Suspended for 45 Days Pending a Final Resolution for His Removal  & City Manager Helfenberger Responds to City Council Allegations: He Will Not Litigate if City Honors His Contract

• Section 11 - Outside Activities: Ms. Fields is an entrepreneur with outside business activities. "Fields may maintain an ownership interest in two existing businesses." This section of her contract accommodates those interests.

• Section 11 points out that Ms. Fields knows that her duties often require her to work “outside of normal business hours.”

• Section 14: Other Terms and Conditions of Employment exempts Ms. Fields from living in Lake City.

What is the Interim City Manager?
What Happens When the Permanent City Manager is Hired?
Where is City Attorney Fred Koberlein?

Fred Koberlein, Jr., Lake City City Attorney
City Atty Fred Koberlein, Jr. Related article is here.

Neither the City Charter nor the City Ordinances have anything to say about the Interim City Manager position.

The City Charter is also silent about any residency requirement for the City Manager.

City Attorney Fred Koberlein reformulated the Helfenberger City Manager contract to fit Ms. Fields.

Nowhere in the contract does it state what happens to Ms. Fields or the position of Interim City Manager when a permanent City Manager is hired.

Councilman Greene and Mayor Witt Object

Councilman Chris Greene wasted no time in voicing his objections.

He told the City Council [as spoken]:

"I have some concerns with the agreement as it is written. One of the things that I am concerned about is, in my opinion, it doesn't fully recognize the temporary situation of an interim city manager. For example, the agreement talks about termination, and I think there is potentially a negative connotation to that.

For me, I would like to see an agreement that we renew as we are in this interim process so that the individual who is serving in the interim role is not terminated. We would renew that contract, but we wouldn't necessarily terminate that individual.

A new contract needs to be negotiated when the interim title comes off if our current interim is selected, so a new contract would need to be negotiated.

So, that individual serving in the role now still would not be terminated. Saying if Ms. Fields was not the selection, then my concern would be, we still, as the City Council, would not necessarily look to terminate Ms. Fields. That would be the purview of the oncoming city manager.

So, I think there is a negative connotation to termination, and so for me, I think that we could do a contract and then renew that contract, as we’re in this interim phase. And then once a selection is made, then we’ll negotiate a permanent contract."

Mayor Witt Weighed In

Mayor Witt weighed in. He had few words and dittoed Councilman Greene.

The Mayor said, “I agree with that. That's my take on it, too. It's more like a permanent contract then -- you know -- put everything to make everything work right. She does need a contract, but it needs to be worded in the proper manner. Anybody else?”

None of the other Council members had anything else. Mayor Witt and Councilman voted against approving Ms. Fields' Interim Contract.

Link to Ami Fields Interim City Manager ContractThe Contract

The contract, in its entirety, is here.

Epilogue

In Part II, we will be covering the search to "search" for a new City Manager.

Something else that the City has bollixed up.

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