By Dan Moffett
Three months after leaving Princeton, N.J., and taking over as the town manager of South Palm Beach, Jim Pascale told residents they should think about whether the town should continue to exist.
Many were caught off guard. They were planning to celebrate South Palm Beach’s 60th anniversary later this year.
Bad timing aside, Pascale won’t be remembered for a lack of chutzpah in talking about offing the town that just hired him. But as a career move, it was pretty much suicidal.
“He had a lot of ideas and was putting them all out at once to see which ones would stick. People just weren’t able to deal with that. It was too much,” said Mayor Bonnie Fischer. “They thought his ideas showed he didn’t understand what people liked best about the town. He told us he just wasn’t a good fit for the town, and so he resigned.”
Pascale’s brief and stormy tenure ended the first week of June when he approached town officials and told them it would be best for everyone if he resigned.
That was one idea most everyone seemed to like.
“When I came here, I tried to look at the town with fresh eyes and ask, ‘What’s in the best interest of the residents of South Palm Beach?’ ” Pascale said. “Maybe not everyone understands that.”
Pascale spent 30 years as a public servant in a town known for its ivy-covered halls of academia, but what worked in Princeton didn’t play in the palm tree-lined condo corridors of A1A.
Besides proposing that South Palm Beach might be better off as an unincorporated community, Pascale offered other ideas that set off the firestorm around him.
He called the town’s Police Department “an accident waiting to happen,” saying officers were poorly trained and an insurance liability that could bankrupt the town. He said it was time to consider contracting with an outside agency to save money and minimize risk.
Pascale, 63, also said the town should consider spending as much as $10 million to buy the Oceanfront Inn site and turn it into a park, a proposal that horrified many taxpayers who live on fixed incomes.
Pascale’s departure cost the town 10 weeks’ severance pay — a little more than $20,000 — as well as considerable embarrassment, weeks of internal upheaval and another round of interviewing candidates.
“He came forward and said, ‘I know I don’t have the backing of the Town Council and the people,’ ” Vice Mayor Joseph Flagello said of the manager’s exit. “ ‘It doesn’t seem to be working out,’ he said. He’s pragmatic. It’s like, ‘Why would I want to be here?’”
New manager discussed
The Town Council took up finding a new manager at two hastily called and minimally advertised special meetings on June 4 and 18.
Town Attorney Brad Biggs said the town’s charter requires only 24-hour notice for a council meeting and does not require publishing an agenda or giving a reason for gathering.
During the June 18 meeting, Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan and Flagello clashed over hiring a replacement. Jordan wanted the town to look next door to Manalapan and quickly move to hire Town Manager Linda Stumpf, whose contract expires later this year and who, Jordan says, also is a candidate for the Ocean Ridge manager’s job.
“She has 39 people in her employ,” said Jordan. “Her knowledge is not only diverse but it’s right for our needs. I think she is the best candidate we have. I want to make sure we make the right decision this time around.”
Flagello said it would be an “irresponsible” mistake for the town to hire someone it hadn’t interviewed or fully vetted and that Stumpf’s selection shouldn’t be “bulldozed through.”
“She may be right for the job. She may be perfect, but I’ve never met the woman,” Flagello said. “We haven’t gone through any process. We haven’t interviewed her. We haven’t even done a background check on this person. On the minute chance something would come up, we’d have egg on our face because we haven’t done our due diligence.”
Fischer sided with Flagello and said the council had to protect the town by formally interviewing Stumpf and considering other candidates: “We just can’t go hire somebody that hasn’t gone through what everybody else has gone through. There should be a level playing field.”
The council unanimously decided to consider Stumpf along with four other candidates with managerial experience who had interviewed with the town along with Pascale late last year: Mark Kutney of Loxahatchee Groves, Robert Kellogg of Sewall’s Point, James Drumm of Zephyrhills and Kenneth Sauer, formerly of Haines City.
Council members said they hope to make a decision this month.