By Dan Moffett
After two failed attempts at hiring a town manager they could work with, South Palm Beach council members decided to bring onboard a known quantity from right next door.
With a unanimous vote of approval Dec. 19, the council forged a five-year contract with longtime Atlantis City Manager Mo Thornton to become the town’s fourth administrative leader in the last three years.
“I’m excited, delighted, I can’t wait to get to know everybody, to come, do good work and have fun,” Thornton told the council.
She said Mayor Bonnie Fischer and Vice Mayor Robert Gottlieb approached her several years ago about coming to work for the town, but the timing wasn’t right. Now it is.
“I decided recently that a life change was in order,” she said.
Thornton has been the manager of Atlantis for 21 years and built working relationships with Fischer and Gottlieb in the Palm Beach County League of Cities. When South Palm Beach needed advice on hiring an auditing firm in early 2017, the town turned to Thornton, who began as accountant and finance director in Atlantis.
“We can all look forward to a town manager who understands that working with the Town Council is what’s ultimately best for the town,” said Councilwoman Elvadianne Culbertson.
Thornton replaces Bob Vitas, the former Key West manager whom the council abruptly fired in October after months of disputes over his salary and evaluation requirements. Three years ago, the council hired Jim Pascale of Princeton, N.J., as manager, then let him go six months later after clashes over projects and policy.
Thornton’s contract, which begins Jan. 22, calls for an annual salary of $105,000 that includes full insurance coverage for herself and her dependent. She is subject to a six-month probationary period and would receive 20 weeks of severance should the town fire her without cause. There are no guaranteed raises in the contract.
Thornton is taking a significant pay cut from the $121,500 she was earning in Atlantis.
“This move is not about money for me,” she said. “South Palm Beach is a wonderful little jewel. I love providing service to a small community.”
The council chose Thornton over two other finalists. Mike Hein, the former manager of Tucson, Ariz., and Longboat Key, essentially took himself out of the running with a $120,000 salary request, more than the town was willing to pay. Council members said Teresa Lamar-Sarno, an assistant city manager and certified planner in Stuart, didn’t have enough experience to fit the town’s needs.
Thornton arrives in South Palm Beach with a full agenda waiting. The town has an ambitious and controversial beach stabilization project planned with the county and must decide how to renovate or repair its aging Town Hall.
Election filings in
The morning of Dec. 19 was busy for Town Clerk Maylee De Jesus as a flurry of election filings came into her office as the qualification period ended.
In all, six candidates qualified for the March ballot for three open seats on the council. Incumbents Gottlieb and Stella Gaddy Jordan are running for another term. Challengers include Kevin and Mary Alessandra Hall, a married couple, Raymond Lee McMillan and Chester “Bill” LeRoy.
Two of the open seats are for full two-year terms and the other — held by Lucille Flagello, who was appointed last fall — is for one year. Town attorney Glen Torcivia said the two highest vote-getters will win the two full-term seats and the candidate who finishes third will claim the partial seat.