Guest Commentary: Embattled City Manager Steve Thompson says 'let’s get the answers right'

City Manager Steve Thompson receives accolades from councilors during his first-year performance review Monday, a complete turn-around from his last review six months ago —  during the height of a heated debate over the city’s past financial practices.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff

City Manager Steve Thompson receives accolades from councilors during his first-year performance review Monday, a complete turn-around from his last review six months ago — during the height of a heated debate over the city’s past financial practices.

On April 19, 2010, City Council voted to terminate my employment with the City, effective May 19, 2010. There is nothing inherently negative with this decision, as City Council has the ability to terminate the contract any time, for any or no reason.

The April 19 online edition of the Marco Eagle (marconews.com) shared the bullet points that that the chairman used to introduce this issue. As many of our residents receive information on our work through a Google search, I will take just a moment to briefly respond to each, almost verbatim to the response that I gave at the council meeting.

The chairman made a number of statements, and after hearing the list I would have to say that if I were uninformed on these issues I would also agree that the sheer weight of these should result in a termination of employment. Let’s look at the facts, in response to the points raised by Chairman Recker:

“Thompson did not share requests for information regarding mishandling of the toxic substance asbestos in 2006 and 2007.”

That is not accurate. Any mishandling of asbestos, and the subsequent EPA investigation, took place in 2006 and 2007, and there is nothing ongoing with this issue as far as health and safety goes.

We received three letters from EPA in 2009, all of which were simply a continuation of earlier requests for information, and nothing in these letters rises to a level that a reasonable person would consider exceptional. These requests clarified volumes of pipe shipped and so forth that the staff and the contractor answered with data from the files.

When the city finally did receive a letter implying that there may be potential fines or liability concerning the 2006 handling of the issue, I immediately notified and provided that information to City Council. My assumption is that any final fines or penalties will be neither the minimum nor the maximum possible. These may not be the responsibility of the city, and there may be options for alternate proposals.

“The annual audit was completed past deadline and over budget without communication to the City’s Audit Advisory Committee.”

There are two issues here, the delay of the audit and the overrun of expenses. The delay was the result of actions of both by the city and by the auditors. City staff was occupied with the continuation of the budget discussions, implementation of the forensic audit results, and development of the bond issue, and with the audit juggled four major issues with equally high priority.

In January the audit firm also needed to reassign staff to meet other standing commitments. The Audit Committee was aware of this delay, but no further action had been scheduled with the Audit Committee, and members were not aware of the next step in this process.

In February I received a staff update that indicated that the audit may not be complete by March, the usual date for this report, and I asked for a status update from our staff and from the audit firm. The audit firm brought forward a summary of the delay and request for additional funds, based on the delay and changes to the project scope, at the end of March.

I immediately copied City Council with this issue, and asked that the finance director bring this through the Audit Committee and City Council for review. The audit is based on a fixed price contract, and additional funding is not required, but in an April meeting the Audit Committee expressed a belief that there may be legitimate reasons for the city to split costs with the audit firm. This is an issue that will be presented through the Audit Committee and City Council for conclusion.

“Thompson contracted with former City Finance Director Bill Harrison after his constructive discharge ... ”

We did contract with Bill Harrison after he left the city. I encouraged Mr. Harrison to leave the city because his comments at a council meeting indicated that he had less than respect for members of City Council. This did not reflect on his technical capabilities, and we contracted with Mr. Harrison to continue working with the city to complete the bond issue underway and other debt-related issues. I briefed all members of City Council, and received no objections to this choice. This issue was also raised several times in public meetings, again with no objections from City Council.

“The Bradenton-based law firm Lewis, Longman & Walker was paid to assist with the defense against the EPA, without informing City Council’s contracted counsel or informing council.”

This is absolutely not correct. In 2006, well before I joined the city, the city contracted with Lewis, Longman & Walker to assist with this issue, as this firm has specialized in these types of regulatory issues. City Council was aware of this at that time, and the city made the decision to bring special counsel with specialized expertise separate from the city’s attorney, Goodlette, Coleman & Johnson, to avoid the double costs of having the contracted City Attorney reviewing the wage rates and billings of a contracted special counsel.

I share the philosophy that all of these law firms should be brought in under the City Attorney, but that was not the decision made in 2006, and did not guide this issue.

Generally, I find that most or all of the issues raised at the meeting of April 19 were, to continue with the respectful tone that I use with council and the community, an exaggeration of the facts. Even so, the correct question would be whether or not, as a result of these comments, the relationship between the city manager and one or more members of council has been damaged to the point that would not allow effective work in the future.

That is the decision for City Council, and City Council has taken the step of terminating the contract. Under the City Charter, the city manager has the ability to call for a public hearing on the issue five days after receipt of written notice of the council’s action. While I have not yet received that written notice, I will be evaluating whether or not a public hearing on this issue will have any public benefit. If this is to be the normal ugly Marco Island public meeting, I am not sure there is a real benefit in doing so. If there is an opportunity for a reconsideration of the votes, then perhaps that would be the case.

I always appreciate your consideration for this city, and I certainly look forward to meeting many of you over the next several months on Marco Island.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 17

jwputnam writes:

Give it a rest already.

marcofriend writes:

"While I have not yet received that written notice, I will be evaluating whether or not a public hearing on this issue will have any public benefit. If this is to be the normal ugly Marco Island public meeting, I am not sure there is a real benefit in doing so." so says Mr. Thompson---
This statement alone shows his contempt for us taxpayers who he actually works for. Remember that while staff works for the City Manager and the City Manager works for City Council, the City Council works for US!
That statement alone is cause for Mr. Thompson to leave.

ajm3s writes:

in response to marcofriend:

"While I have not yet received that written notice, I will be evaluating whether or not a public hearing on this issue will have any public benefit. If this is to be the normal ugly Marco Island public meeting, I am not sure there is a real benefit in doing so." so says Mr. Thompson---
This statement alone shows his contempt for us taxpayers who he actually works for. Remember that while staff works for the City Manager and the City Manager works for City Council, the City Council works for US!
That statement alone is cause for Mr. Thompson to leave.

That statement raises my concern as to his ability to evaluate.

"Normal ugly Marco Island public meeting...."

Why would want to continue to pursue municipal managerial endeavors? This will be his second dismissal, after Deltona. I believe a career change is in order as well as venue.

Thanks for the memories.

Fossil writes:

After reading the above statement and spin, any doubts I had about the Council's action have been taken care of. This guy has no clue who he worked for.

Leroy writes:

I believe when Thompson was talking about "normal Marco ugly politics" he was specifically talking about John Putnam!

bigdog1970 writes:

in response to marcofriend:

"While I have not yet received that written notice, I will be evaluating whether or not a public hearing on this issue will have any public benefit. If this is to be the normal ugly Marco Island public meeting, I am not sure there is a real benefit in doing so." so says Mr. Thompson---
This statement alone shows his contempt for us taxpayers who he actually works for. Remember that while staff works for the City Manager and the City Manager works for City Council, the City Council works for US!
That statement alone is cause for Mr. Thompson to leave.

While I agree with your statement in part, but I disagree with one line.
The City council does not work for us, they work for their own little hidden agendas, and for their own little power hungry friends.
Since the inception of cityhood, there has been one power play after another to run this city, and none of them have the intrest of the city or its taxpayers at heart.

EdFoster writes:

Mr. Thompson seems to be one of Obama's understudies. It ain't my fault; I inherited it. But who did he inherit the asbestos mess from? His buddy Bill Moss who recommended him for the job and then scurried over the bridge. Ever since, Stevie has been covering for Willy and handling EPA inquiries as if they were of no importance ... until the EPA mentioned $37,500 a day in potential fines. Then, his back to the wall, he brings the problem to the council while saying that there is no asbestos on the island and everything is just ducky. Steve, asbestos has no half-life. It's on the island forever and it is insidious. It can take decades for the health problems to show and the class-action suits to begin. Furthermore, QE essentially pleaded guilty to Clean Air Act violations when they testified under oath at the CARES-suit deposition that they had no one on site who knew how to handle asbestos. That, in itself, is a violation of the Clean Air Act. Read the law! City employee Mike Daniels also knew there was asbestos under Collier Boulevard and declared himself "unconcerned." That brings the City into the picture. If I were you, Steve, I'd get my butt across the bridge before you take the fall for Moss and crew.

Ed Foster

ed34145 writes:

If you don't understand "normal Marco ugly politics", then you either don't know what's going on or you are part of the ugliness. Good people in this city are afraid to speak out for fear of persecution, threats, and even worse. Anyone who expresses a positive opinion is held up to ridicule. The negative people can't help it. They have no other life except being negative. Look at Ed Foster. He moved off this island quite a while ago and still his life revolves around checking the online paper and writing negative comments. How sad.

lauralbi1 writes:

Mr. Foster, give it a rest !!!
We are all enjoying Paradise with no medical effects, and you are NOT. We all know that this recent episode with the EPA is not due to Asbestos, but due to you and Mr. Sanchez.
After all, even the Clean Air Act defines Hazardous Concrete Pipe containing Asbestos as being more than 260 Linear feet of it. Please tell me if you know, how many feet were removed from the ground ??
Again, not to say that Quality did not violate the Act, but answer the question, please. Read my blogs on the subjecdt to get the EPA Legal Reference.
Ed Issler

Detslady106 writes:

Like all the rest of these no life people in this part of Florida, If you don't agree with them, they bully until they get what they want.

I have come to the conclusion that people like Ed Foster have to live in small towns so they can feel like big men. What's the matter Ed, the school bully take your lunch from you one too many times?

You and the rest of your non-important friends are a legend in your own minds.

blogsmog writes:

I'm still waiting to hear the results of Isslers asbestos test.
Edgar, whats going on with that anyways?

surfer1 writes:

Anything can be read into that statement that one wants to. To bright, neutral people the statement referred to in previous comments shows a prudence (or a prediction based on city history) and recognition of what may happen if pursued. Is the outcome of the decision going to be any different? At any time like this, one would expect that all options must be closely weighed for the benefit of the city, which is how Thompson states it.

A decision (whether right or wrong) by City Council that did not allow the opportunity for ample public comment or consideration should be reviewed by people not clouded by their own agendas. People who think for themselves do not automatically believe everything they hear in a political areana but carefully consider what they have observed and make decisions based upon their experiences and biases. Depending on which side of the City Council's decision you fall on, for or against Thompson, is how you read it.

Seeing Thompson's input in writing should help the public make their own determinations about this whole process and if they agree or not.

JohninMarco writes:

If Mr. Thompson feels this way, Then Appeal your termination and let ALL the facts in. What he did not say was that his own staff had turned on him. It was your staff which reported your mis-steps to council.

RayPray writes:

I view Steve as a Christ like figure, considering this quick crucifixion

cmonmanreally writes:

Mr. Thompson, thank you for what you have contributed. It is inevitable that Mr. Moss, Mr. Joel, & Quality Enterprises (maybe council at the time, too) will see their day in front of a judge. Best of luck to you and yours as Marco further deteriorates itself.

EdFoster writes:

Oh gosh, gee-willikers, Issler. You tell me how many feet of pipe were removed. Is there any way to tell precisely? Are you so naive as to believe what Quality Enterprises tells you? How many pipe were in that pile on Site A? How many feet of pipe were in the 3+ feet of crap that had to be excavated on Site C? How many feet of pipe were lying on the ground along Collier Boulevard. I have pictures ... real pictures, not Tucker pictures ... of many 10-foot lengths of AC pipe along Collier and that's only what was lying on the surface on one day.

Issler, you're a great researcher as we all know. Try this on for size: the Clean Air Act requires that asbestos-certified personnel be present whenever asbestos-containing material is removed. During depositions, QE's foreman testified that QE had no asbestos-certified personnel on the site and that he, being a police officer a few weeks earlier, know absolutely nothing about asbestos. They admitted their guilt and you defend them. Moss defended them. Moss used your tax dollars and mine to protect them. These are facts. These are in sworn depositions. Does that mean nothing to you? Does Daniels sworn deposition that he knew there was asbestos pipe present but was "unconcerned" mean nothing to you. Does Daniels' sworn deposition that he never met Godfrey Davies or Butch Neylon mean nothing to you? Does Daniels sworn deposition that he wasn't sure exactly who Terri DiSciullo was and had never walked Collier Boulevard with her, Godfrey and Butch mean nothing to you? Good God man, she had just given him the Employee of the Month Award! Now, who is telling the truth here?

Ed Foster

happy6 writes:

i thought thompson was fired...fired is fired...unless you're arceri/issler....so long steve...don't let the MOSS grow under your feet.
and why not take poor rony with you...and pile walduck on the wagon as well.

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