Tammy Bursick, steady hand on tiller at City Hall, will retire


Longtime Vero Beach City Clerk Tammy Bursick plans to retire next week, but she’s not leaving City Hall.

Not until December, anyway.

Despite spending 39 years as a city employee – the past 34 in her current position – Bursick still has one more task to accomplish before she calls it a career.

She wants to make sure her heir-apparent, Deputy Clerk Sherri Philo, enjoys a smooth transition, especially with a three-seat City Council election in November.

So Bursick is staying on through the end of the year, albeit in a part-time role to assist Philo, who will take over the clerk’s duties on an interim basis on July 1.

“I’m definitely ready to retire,” Bursick said. “I’ve been working for the city since 1985, and it’s time. I’m looking forward to having free time to spend with family and travel and do some of the things I haven’t had a chance to do.

“But there’s so much going on right now, with all these major projects and the budget and the election, so the council asked me if I could stay and help Sherri,” she added. “Of course, I said I would.”

Bursick said she doesn’t expect to put in more than 25 hours most weeks, and she probably can work from home some days.

She said Philo, who worked for the city for 28 years – all in the clerk’s office, starting as a secretary and moving up to deputy clerk 17 years ago – has informed the council that she wants the clerk’s job on a permanent basis.

“Sherri has been a here a long time and she knows how this office runs,” Bursick said.

“Things can change quickly, and you’ve got to keep up with new laws being passed and repealed. As long as she does that, she’ll do a great job.”

Philo said she already has learned much from Bursick and respects the way she has managed the clerk’s office, adding that they have become more than co-workers.

“She’s like family to me,” Philo said.

That’s the same affection with which Bursick has embraced Philo and her team since 1990, when she replaced clerk Phyllis Neuberger, who became ill and died from cancer.

In fact, Bursick said that while she has seen many City Hall workers retire and be replaced by new faces, she has been “blessed with a staff” that has, for the most part, remained intact for years.

“I used to know everybody around here, but even with a lot of new people getting hired, it doesn’t take long to become a part of the family,” she said. “That will be the toughest part about walking out of the building for the last time – saying that final good-bye to everyone.

“I’ll take a lot of memories with me.”

And to think: It all started with an ad in a local newspaper, where Bursick, who previously worked at a bank, noticed a job opening for a switchboard operator at City Hall.

Bursick applied and was hired, but, after only one day, applied for a better job as a secretary in the clerk’s office, then got hired again. She would later replace the city’s departing deputy clerk.

Under Neuberger’s tutelage, Bursick launched a career that would become a labor of love and take her to the end of her working life. She admits, however, the job has become more demanding through the years.

“In some ways, all the new technology has made it easier, because so much information is at your fingertips,” Bursick said. “But in other ways, it has made the job more difficult, because you have to account for so much new equipment.

“We just had to replace all the equipment in the City Council chamber, because meetings are televised, live-streamed and video-recorded,” she added. “We also have Zoom now. So, if you include all the advisory commissions and those meetings, there’s a lot to keep track of.”

Especially now.

In recent years, Vero Beach has launched several major projects, including the much-anticipated development of the Three Corners site, relocation of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, expansion of the municipal marina and revitalization of the downtown area.

“There’s a lot to this job,” Bursick said, “and with so much going on these days, you really need to keep track of what’s coming up next.”

Misinformation masquerading as facts and distributed daily on social-media platforms only complicates matters, prompting many residents to respond with questions delivered via email to council members – and that correspondence is often funneled through the clerk’s office.

“There’s so much out there that isn’t true,” Bursick said.

Then there’s the ongoing surge of public records requests, which are usually addressed to the clerk’s office, which distributes them to council members, city staffers and other departments.

Unlike years ago, the local news media aren’t alone in seeking such information. Private citizens, advocacy groups and pseudo-journalists with websites and social-media outlets now flood City Hall with requests for records.

“The numbers keep growing, and we do the best we can to abide by the law and respond with honesty and integrity,” Bursick said. “I have a records clerk who pretty much does nothing else.”

Despite the demands, though, the job also has offered Bursick the opportunity to be a part of the city’s successes – none she cherishes more than having helped organize Vero Beach’s yearlong centennial celebration in 2019.

Having previously being involved with the city’s observances of its 75th and 90th anniversaries, she called her participation in the preparations for the centennial “one of the best years of my life,” recalling how wonderful it was to “see the community come together.”

That celebration, however, took place after Bursick survived an attempt by then-City Councilman Val Zudans to have her fired in what has been the lone hiccup in the clerk’s otherwise-unblemished career.

Relying on legal counsel from the city’s attorneys, Bursick disqualified candidates Linda Hillman and Brian Heady from the 2018 City Council election because signatures allegedly were missing from their filing documents.

The September controversy resulted in Hillman slapping the city with a lawsuit that ultimately produced a settlement, one that included voiding the results of the November election and holding a special election the following February.

Zudans blamed Bursick for causing the dispute, which cost the city $25,000 to conduct the special election. But she retained the community’s trust – and her job.

“It was a growing experience, something I definitely learned from,” Bursick said. “I was trying to do the right thing, but I probably should’ve let the candidates’ opponents make the complaint instead of the city doing it.

“We’ve since made changes that should’ve been made years earlier.”

The episode hasn’t diminished her lofty standing at City Hall, where she has earned the respect and admiration from department heads, staffers and council members.

City Manager Monte Falls said he fondly recalls the 33 years they’ve both worked at City Hall.

“Tammy has been the constant force for the city throughout the time I’ve been here,” Falls said. “For as long as I’ve known here, she shows up for work with cheerful attitude and can-do approach, and she’s the consummate professional.

“Even with so much happening at City Hall, she makes sure everything is always in impeccable order,” he added. “She keeps us all on target, in line and on schedule. Her shoes are going to be very hard to fill.

“Every time I see her, I tell her: ‘You know you don’t have to leave, right?’”

Mayor John Cotugno also heaped praise on Bursick, saying her many years on the job provides her with valuable institutional knowledge.

“She’s not only a great reference; she’s also a team player and a genuinely good person,” he said. “She was always there with guidance when I was new to the City Council, and she has been very helpful to my efforts as mayor.

“I very much appreciate the fact that she’s going to be around for a few more months,” the mayor added, “because we’ll miss her when she’s gone.”

Bursick said she didn’t know how many mayors and council members she has worked under the past three-plus decades, but she does plan to count them before she leaves.

“With two-year terms,” she said, “there have been a lot of them.”

Perhaps she’ll tally them in September, when she plans to take off for a couple of weeks so she and husband, Jim, who has been retired for 10 years, can spend some time at their other home in Michigan.

But she’ll be back in plenty of time to get her loyal deputy through the election this fall. “I welcome her help,” Philo said.

Soon afterward, Bursick will move on the next chapter, which she said probably will include some temporary clerk’s work.

Bursick is a longtime member and former president of the Florida Association of City Clerks, for whom she created a program to assist cities that have a vacancy and are in need an interim clerk.

She plans to remain active in that program.

“I still want to help out when I can,” said Bursick, who was the association’s 2007 City Clerk of the Year. “It’s a good way to keep my hand in something I’ve been involved in for more than 30 years.”

She’s retiring next week, but she’s not leaving.

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