Vero Beach Council meets to settle City Manager contract

VERO BEACH — James O’Connor’s proposed employment contract for the Vero Beach City Manager job — and the changes O’Connor has proposed — will be the agenda for Tuesday’s special call meeting of the Vero Beach City Council.

Last week, council members voted to offer O’Connor a package of $145,000 annual salary, three years of job security, an automobile allowance, health and retirement benefits, $20,000 moving expenses and $1,000 to cover temporary housing.

But he wants more money for retirement and temporary housing.

O’Connor is currently employed as Winchester, Va. City Manager where he has served since only January 2010. The fact that O’Connor would consider leaving the City of Winchester after just a little more than a year has raised some eyebrows.

Based upon his agreement with the Winchester City Council, O’Connor would need to give 60 days notice and he would also need to make a long-distance move. The earliest that would put him in Vero Beach full-time would be around July 1. Vero Beach has been without a permanent City Manager since Jim Gabbard retired in October.

O’Connor would be paid $9,000 more than Gabbard’s ending salary of $136,000 per year. Gabbard had 24 years of service with the city — 19 as its Chief of Police and five as City Manager.

On Thursday, O’Connor spoke with Acting City Attorney Wayne Coment and asked that a 3 percent additional retirement contribution of about $4,500 per year be added into the contract. The top-choice candidate also wants up to $3,000 in temporary living expenses.

During interviews, O’Connor expressed a deep desire to move to Vero Beach where he already has friends. He said he was recruited by someone local and that he is good friends with former City Manager Rex Taylor and with the widow of long-time City Manager John Little.

A man in his early 60s with a long career in municipal management, it is no huge mystery why O’Connor is scoping out a retirement haven like Vero Beach as a place to end his full-time working years.

Based on the tenor of discussions last week, Councilman Brian Heady and Councilwoman Tracy Carroll seem to not be interested in offering more in a compensation package than the city already has on the table. Mayor Jay Kramer, Vice Mayor Pilar Turner and Councilman Craig Fletcher seem to be solidly behind the decision to hire O’Connor, but it’s unknown what the reaction to the request for more money amid serious budget constraints will play with O’Connor’s supporters.

Depending upon how much the City Council wants O’Connor, it could agree to the additional money or it could send the contract back to him as is for O’Connor to take it or leave it. Or members could propose a compromise.

If the City Council takes offense at the fact that O’Connor is not satisfied with what is generally considered as a very generous job offer, it could vote to end negotiations with him and instead offer the job to their second choice, Kenneth Griffin. Griffin is currently the Assistant County Administrator for Utilities in Hillsborough County.

The Vero Beach City Council meets at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers at Vero Beach City Hall. The meeting will be televised on Comcast Channel 13 and live-stream broadcast on the city’s website

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