IRB Officials, Citizens Happy With Cottrell - One Exception
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - There are lots of smiles of accomplishment in this Gulfside city these days among officials and the citizenry alike now that a full-time city manager is in place - with one notable exception.
Meantime, a red-hot e-mail battle between two elected officials continues.
Mayor-commissioner Bill Ockunzzi apparently doesn't like the appointment of Steve Cottrell, a thorough professional.
Ockunzzi launched an attack on what is actually a moot issue (Cottrell is in place and will stay there for the foreseeable future) with a severely critical look at the contract four members of the commission supported for Cottrell.
And while the contentious Ockunzzi was second-guessing what a majority of the commission wants, he was continuing his e-mail blitz with Commissioner Jose Coppen.
Both keep feeding fuel into this bonfire of contention.
One close observer of city affairs said, once Ockunzzi's dissatisfaction with Cottrell was made very public, said, "It's obvious Bill doesn't want Cottrell there. Why? Simple. He can't control him. Funny that he would find fault with this new contract when the contract with Grieshaber was a virtual giveaway pact."
And that occurred, the observer said, "Because Grieshaber was pliable and allowed Ockunzzi to pretty much run things."
Evident that that may be true can be found in Grieshaber's constant travels when he was the IRB city manager, these travels being involved in job seeking in other jurisdictions.
Grieshaber put thousands of miles a month on a city vehicle in this quest. The mileage postings range from 2,300 to 5,000 miles a month, compilings that take most folks many months to achieve.
Cottrell hadn't been in office as full-time city manager many hours before Ockunzzi, who had tried to run Cottrell off in the weeks leading up to his appointment, was cranking out written critiques of the contract with the new manager.
The chef d'oeuvre in this tirade of dissatisfaction was the 1,150 word letter to the editor that was published in the Gazette last week (August 23).
Although a letter to the editor does not have the authoritative tone and impact of a news article written by a responsible reporter, nevertheless Ockunzzi was accorded the courtesy, thanks to the Gazette, of offering his thoughts to the public.
This was countered, in the e-mail exchange funneled through the city clerk's office in Indian Rocks Beach City Hall, by Coppen who countered Ockunzzi's criticism by saying, "Mayor-commissioner Bill Ockunzzi is giving an example of political posturing and promoting confusion with his recent tirade against the selection of a new city manager."
Coppen then got specific - "(Ockunzzi) bemoans the hiring (of Cottrell) over his objections of a city manager who would not take any of his micro-managing."
Cottrell came aboard in IRB about four months ago on an interim basis. He was almost ready to take the job full time when it became apparent that, evidently because of Cottrell's professional independence, he would not accept interference or micro-managing. So he backed off.
Once it became clear that he was really wanted and had the support of four of the five commission members and a six-month separation package in his contract, Cottrell signed on. Everyone, except Ockunzzi, seems to be happy.
Rebutting Ockunzzi's litany of dissatisfactions with Cottrell's contract, Coppen enumerated these points -
"The list of city manager candidates had dwindled to two;
"Cottrell is an experienced city manager thoroughly familiar with our city;
"He has proven himself as interim city manager;
"He resides in the county and would not require relocation or temporary housing allowance;
"His salary is equivalent to what the former city manager would been making at this time;
"Cottrell is a member of the International City Managers Association (unlike Grieshaber, his predecessor, although this is a charter requirement)."
Coppen said he was saddened by the fact that "Instead of welcoming our new city manager, Ockunzzi continues his whining and resorts to petty arguments over the selection of a manager whom four commissioners wanted."
Coppen said his theory was that Ockunzzi saw the idea of Cottrell as manager fading and that he, Ockunzzi, "would have another chance to pick a pliable CM - one he could control - when all of a sudden the situation changed and Cottrell accepted the job with plenty of backing on the commission."
Another respected figure in the city said, "The city government was sick and we partially cured that last March by electing two commissioners (Bert Valery and Terry Wollin-Hamilton) and that shocked the incumbents (Jim Palamara and Ed Piniero) who thought they were shoo-ins.
"Now we need to complete the treatment next March when Bill Ockunzzi's term is up and get someone to replace him who knows that this city wants peace and quiet, not a constant uproar."
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