Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

LC City Manager Search: After Almost 3 Years, Lake City Has a City Manager With a Contract

As the Contract Took Its Final Form With Mr. Rosenthal, Councilman Ricky Jernigan Demanded Transparency

Lake City Municipal Airport - grand opening in 2012
Lake City Municipal Airport on grand reopening day 2012

LAKE CITY, FL – LC City Manager search is finally over. After just under three years of searching, the City Council hashed out the final details of its contract with Don Rosenthal, former Assistant County Administrator [manager] for Pasco County.

Rosenthal infoAs Asst. County Admin for Pasco County, Mr. Rosenthal directly managed over 285 County employees, overseeing a budget of $347 mil. Pasco County at that time had 550,000 residents. (Information from Rosenthal Resume)

Lake City has a population of 12,200, a budget of $75 million, and 200-plus employees.

The City Manager is the City’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and responsible for and answerable to the City Council for just about everything that goes on in LC City government.

The approved City Manager Contract, including benefits will cost the taxpayers an estimated $225,000 to have Mr. Rosenthal run a $75 mil a year municipal corporation.

The City Organizational Chart lays out the executive responsibilities of the City Manager

Lake City Organizational Chart
Scoot to the Epologue to see Mr. Rosenthal's remarks about the Organiztional Chart

Contract Discussion Gets Underway: City Manager Resignation Refined

Councilman Jernigan Looking for Transparency: Who is recommending  changes? How is it being done?

Ever since Lake City’s legendary City Attorney Herber Darby retired, there has been City Attorney trouble, aka, City Attorneys getting involved in the politics and bloodstream of City business.

Polling the Council or acting as a liaison between Council members is against the law.

City Attorney Clay Martin led the review of City Manager Rosenthal's contract. The first item addressed was what would happen if the City Manager resigned.

As reported earlier (see: LC City Manager Search: New City Manager Contract Based on ICMA Model – Involuntary Servitude Included), the City Council would have to accept the City Manager's resignation.

Attorney Martin began the conversation: “I believe everybody up here has had a chance to read the entire document. I'm just gonna go through and highlight the changes that were made since you reviewed the last version of it.”

12th hour city manager contract-linkThe latest and greatest modified version of the Rosenthal contract was completed at 4:05 Monday afternoon, two hours before the meeting. Neither the Council nor the public had a chance to view that revised version of the Rosenthal contract. Attorney Martin handed it out as the item came up on the agenda.

The watermarks on the page made it difficult and distracting to read. In places, the details were unreadable.   

Attorney Martin continued: “The first change was in section two, paragraph F. It was brought to our attention by a member of the media that the language accepted by or requiring the employee's resignation to be accepted by the governing body could be subject to multiple interpretations; that would be detrimental to the City. And so, we, we inverted that and changed it from -- accepted by the governing body to submitted to the governing body.”

Councilwoman Young pointed out it was difficult to hear Atty Martin. He moved closer to the microphone and repeated his remarks.

Councilman Ricky Jernigan-Lake CityCouncilman Jernigan wanted to know who “we” was in, “We, we inverted that and changed it.”

Councilman Jernigan: “You, you said we. Who – who was we? You said a member of the media and you, or a member of the media and one of the councils or the mayor. Who, who is we? That's all I need to know.” (file photo)

Attorney Martin explained, “So, that actually was brought to my attention by Councilman Carter. That issue had been brought up by a member of the media, and he brought it to my attention, and I concede that it was subject to misinterpretation. And so, I made the change. And it doesn't really make any change in the substantive intent of that paragraph, but it makes it less apt to be misinterpreted.”

It does make a difference. (Ed.)

Mr. Jernigan told Mr. Carter he did a good job.

City Council Thought $165k Unreasonable. Chopped off $2,500

At the beginning of the contract negotiations, Mr. Rosenthal said he wanted a salary of $165k, up $5k from the amount he requested on his application. Considering the amount of work to be done in the City, some did not think this was unreasonable. The City Council did.

During Monday evening's May 20 meeting, the Council balked.

City Attorney Martin brought up section three of Mr. Rosenthal’s contract: salary.

“Section three, paragraph a, from multiple members of the Council. I heard comments regarding the salary being above the one-sixty – one-sixty that was advertised. I took those comments to Mr. Rosenthal, and he agreed to reduce the ask for his annual base salary from one sixty-five to one sixty-two-five or $2,500 a year reduction. So that is in that paragraph.”

Who is "we?" "I know you ain’t talkin’ about me."

Once again, Councilman Jernigan had an issue with Mr. Martin’s transparency. Mr. Jernigan said, “Now, you say we again, who – who brought that to your attention?”

Attorney Martin: “That was brought to my attention by Councilman Carter and Councilman Hill particularly, and if (pause). Would the Council like me to disclose all of my communications I had with members of the Council?”

What Mr. Carter or Mr. Hill said to Atty Martin is unclear. Mr. Martin was not talking, and neither Mr. Carter nor Mr. Hill revealed their conversations.

Councilman Jernigan responded, “Well, I mean, when you say we, I, I don't know. I know you ain’t talkin’ about me, but you know, when you say we, I thought I was included, I didn't know I was excluded.” 

Attorney Martin responded, “Well, I mean, there are things in here that are also based off of comments you made and, and yours were in writing.” 

Councilman Jernigan said, “Yeah – you could say, you could say, I did that if you want. I don't have a problem with that, but don't say we, 'cause I didn't know this had took (sic) place.”

As can be seen on page 2 of the working contract, Attorney Martin changed Mr. Rosenthal's $165,000. If he hadn't polled the board or acted as a liaison between the Council members (both are illegal), how could Mr. Rosenthal's request have been reduced by $2,500?

The Council made other changes to the contract. Some changes were forwarded to Mr. Martin on behalf of other people by City Clerk Audrey Sikes. It is unknown who she was representing. No one was talking.

The severance, quitting, and termination issues were brought up and explained. The still unresolved $220,000 Dyal Severance Debacle had the Council and Attorney sensitive to the issue.

Mr. Martin explained he made the changes in the contract to ensure history did not repeat.

Councilman Jernigan weighed in: “I'm hoping that this never happens. You know, I believe he's gonna be around a long time. I – I don't want to even think about terminating him or anything like that, but I just need to know exactly if he gets terminated, what's, what is he entitled to and what's he's not entitled to and look like to me you clarified that pretty – pretty good there… I can live with this. Okay. I don't know about anybody else.”

Attorney Martin asked, “Are, are there any? I know that, that probably is a section everybody is particularly interested in. Are there any questions about the termination section?”

There were none, and the Attorney and Council moved on. Other things were changed, and requestors were revealed.

Glenel BowdenFormer City Councilman Glenel Bowden was the only citizen who weighed in on the Rosenthal contract before the vote. He said, "The concerns I have seen have been addressed. Most of 'em have been addressed. So, I hope that the City Council will pass this [contract], so Mr. Rosenthal [can] sign and get in as quick as he possibly can.” (file photo)

"A generous stack of problems"

Before the vote, Councilman Carter said, “In many ways, it's a generous contract, but I also think it's a generous stack of problems to solve. So, I think, uh, from my meeting with him and from our interview together here, I have a lot of faith in him, and I think it'll be good for the City." 

Ten minutes later, after a few more changes, all approved by Mr. Rosenthal, who was in contact with Attorney Martin via text messaging, the City Council, on a motion by Councilman Hill, unanimously approved a resolution approving Mr. Rosenthal’s contract.

Mayor Witt had the last words, “Okay. Good news. Alright.”

Epilogue: A Few Words From Don Rosenthal

Before this article was published, your reporter reached out to Mr. Rosenthal for a comment.

He said, "I'm excited about Lake City, and I will be there on June 1. While Lake City may have some issues, they are small compared to the possibilities."

Your reporter asked about the City’s organizational chart (the one at the beginning of the article), “The City’s organizational chart is the backbone of the City. Have you looked at that?”

Mr. Rosenthal answered, "I've been looking at that chart, and I have been taking a deep dive into it to explore better efficiencies for the City government and the public. It can be a tool to enhance the City's economic development opportunities and tax base."

He added, "There is a lot of work to do, and the City Council and the public will be involved every step of the way."

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