Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson has asked City Manager Gary Price to step down now -- instead of discussing the matter as planned at the next scheduled City Council meeting.
Price, who came out of retirement 10 years ago to manage Bonita’s staff, has occasionally discussed his exit plans with Nelson, the mayor said.
Those talks were rekindled recently when a city councilman, with a complaint against Price, announced plans to ask him to resign at the April 7 council meeting. Those talks heated up, and even got contentious, on Friday as Price and Nelson exchanged e-mails.
“The question is this: Do we really need to go through this,” Nelson said he asked Price, “or are we close to resolving this in a positive way for you?”
Councilman John Spear is expected to ask for Price’s resignation at the next meeting. Spear believed Price had responded dishonestly when Spear asked about funding options for a $75,000 park road.
Nelson emphasized that his suggestion for Price to bow out was less about Spear’s complaint and more about the needs of the city.
“If we are to successfully build a consensus as a city and a council on these controversial and sensitive issues, if we are to successfully negotiate and build positive relationships with our neighbors, community organizations and agency partners, then regretfully, I believe there needs to be a change at the city manager position,” Nelson said in a memo to Price on Friday.
City Attorney Audrey Vance said on Thursday that she had met with Price and asked him to draw up terms for a buyout.
No such terms had been outlined as of Friday, she said, and no documents had been drafted.
Price said Friday that he will weigh City Council’s reaction before making a decision, although he is on the fence about what is best for himself and the city.
While he is committed to Bonita Springs, Price said, he agreed that the city needs have changed and he may not be the person to lead it going forward. He said the city manager may need to work diplomatically to accomplish its goals.
“I’m not a diplomat, I’ve never been a diplomat, I’ve never claimed to be a diplomat,” Price said. “But I don’t know if the city manager should be a diplomat.”
He also said, sitting at his desk behind stacks of papers, that his workload is becoming unmanageable, especially after taking on the work of his assistant city manager who left last year.
In an e-mail response to Nelson on Friday night, Price said Spear’s issue was “a cover for his long-term desire to get me.”
He added: “Make me an offer that I cannot refuse. Remember the old saying, when purchasing a mule, the first side that mentions a number loses.”
Though Price may resign before his two and a half year contract expires in 2012, the city’s charter, its guiding document, also outlines procedures for City Council to terminate its city manager.
Should City Council, by a majority vote, agree to suspend Price, he would have 15 days to respond in writing and request a public hearing.
If, after a public hearing, the majority of City Council agreed, Price could be terminated.
If Price resigned after being asked to leave he would be considered terminated and by contract the city would pay him three months of his $155,022 salary, or about $39,000, less taxes, deferred compensation and deductions, in a lump sum. The city would also cover the cost of his temporary insurance for three months.
If Price’s resignation is unrelated to a request for resignation, he would not receive severance.
Price has been city manager since 2000. Before that, he served for nearly 15 years as Sanibel’s city manager until retiring in 1999.
Price said he does not want to leave on a negative note and at 63, he is too old to go elsewhere and a couple of years too young to receive social security and medicare. He’d also like to reach a benchmark -- 40 years in government service -- which he’d hit in mid-December.
So he will weigh council’s consensus with everything else, he said.
“If this council still wants me, I’m going to stay,” Price said, adding that he has received several e-mails and phone calls of support.
Ed FitzGerald, fire commissioner for the Bonita Springs Fire Control & Rescue District, told Price he hopes Price’s belief in his own performance outweighs the opinions of others.
“I also think it would be a major loss to the city of Bonita Springs if you abandoned your job in an untimely fashion,” FitzGerald wrote in an e-mail. “I say that because when your time to go does come I would hope that you would have been instrumental in hiring or preparing a successor.”
Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/