While I have always found Rich Pollack to be a very competent reporter, I take issue with his article, “Manager steps down after negative IG report.” It is misleading and doesn’t address reasons for Kathleen Weiser’s departure. Many Highland Beach residents have been long-standing critics of Weiser’s management style and performance.
Pollack’s excellent article in the February 2013 issue, “Residents critical of Weiser’s management of library director,” described a series of actions that many believe were intended to force the resignation of our library director, Mari Suarez.
Residents complaining to the IG opposed the commission raising its spending limit from $350,000 to $1,350,000 without a referendum, but didn’t know it was in violation of our town charter.
Pollack’s article gives credence to Town Attorney Glen Torcivia’s contention that he “repeatedly asked for records from the town clerk’s office to be sure the spending cap could be increased by ordinance and received nothing to indicate otherwise.”
Torcivia and Weiser should have known our charter and spending limits. For counsel to complain about getting poor legal advice from the town clerk is ludicrous. The IG got it right.
Of principal concern was Weiser’s use of “professional services contracts,” described as follows. Identify a project and solicit architects to submit letters of interest, which include qualifications, but no proposal or pricing. A committee selects a winning architect and negotiates a price for the architect’s services. Once a design plan is approved, the architect contracts for the construction.
In the case of the Town Hall renovation, only one bid was secured. The renovation budget was $850,000 and the final cost will be closer to $1.3 million. Weiser also authorized a change order that increased the architect’s “fixed price” contract 50 percent.
The process is flawed and subject to abuse. Weiser used this process for the library terrace renovation. The committee chose an architect who bid $18,000 but agreed to $15,000 and estimated the renovation would cost over $200,000. The commission rejected the proposal and directed Weiser to secure three bids for a design/build contract. Four bids were received and a contract is in process of being awarded in an amount not to exceed $150,000.
Suggesting that the death of Dennis Sheridan caused a political shift that led to Weiser’s departure is incorrect. I met with Sheridan for almost two hours just before his fatal illness struck. While the subject of the meeting was the library, most of the time was spent discussing Weiser. The vote to accept Weiser’s resignation was 4 to 1, and I believe Sheridan would have voted with the majority.
The separation agreement prohibited the parties discussing it, however The Coastal Star quoted Vice Mayor Ron Brown extolling Weiser’s virtues and saying, “Thank God we had her here as long as we did.” Brown is a staunch supporter and the lone vote opposing the agreement. The article also gave credence to Weiser’s contention that her departure was political, creating a false impression.
The Coastal Star needlessly dredged up history from 2011 that compromises Beverly Brown. The commission was intimately aware of her history and competence when it unanimously appointed her interim town manager.
In summary, the IG report and the death of Dennis Sheridan had little to do with Weiser’s departure. While there are residents that share Brown’s high opinion of Weiser, there was substantive justification for her departure.