By Dan Moffett
A divided South Palm Beach Town Council grudgingly voted to give itself a modest pay raise on Feb. 28, ending months of vacillation and often spirited debate.
With final approval of the new ordinance, council members will see their pay rise from $250 to $300 a month and the mayor’s position from $250 to $500.
The vote was 3-2, with Vice Mayor Joe Flagello and Robert Gottlieb opposing the measure, largely on procedural grounds. Flagello and Gottlieb said the council should take up the raises in workshops during the next budget cycle and then implement them next fiscal year.
Mayor Bonnie Fischer, at the council’s urging, has changed the mayor’s position to one that is more interactive with other agencies and communities. Fischer has represented the town’s interests as member of an exploratory group looking at coastal fire-rescue systems and also spearheaded the town’s beach stabilization project, working with state, county and local governments.
“She certainly deserves a pay raise because of how hard she works — countless hours,” Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan said.
The council’s salaries have been frozen since the town went into an economic tailspin during the last recession.
In other business:
• Town Manager Bob Vitas told the council that he expects an architect’s report on the condition of Town Hall by mid-March and then the council will have to consider one of two courses to take: either develop a plan to renovate the existing building, or demolish it and build a new structure from the ground up. Vitas said he told architect Steven Knight that the town will need some time to make that choice.
“I told him that I haven’t put a hard brake on this project but I have put a soft brake on it,” the manager said.
Council members plan to discuss Knight’s findings at the March 28 town meeting.
• For more than a year, council members have put off deciding whether to give a new contract to Town Attorney Brad Biggs. They passed on the issue again during the February meeting, but at least decided on a format for the attorney’s evaluation form.
Council members said they would schedule a workshop — time and date to be determined — to evaluate Biggs’ performance and discuss renewing his contract.
Biggs has been caught in an administrative and political limbo with the town since early last year when Jordan criticized his performance. She said he was slow to respond to the council’s questions and wasn’t aggressive enough in defending the town’s interests during discussions with developers.
Flagello, however, called Biggs’ work “outstanding” and disputed Jordan’s claim that he was unresponsive.
As part of a new contract proposal, Biggs offered to work out of an office in Town Hall to allow the council more access. He has asked for a raise from $170 an hour to $180.
• There will be no election in South Palm Beach in March because no candidates came forward to challenge incumbents Fischer, Flagello and Elvadianne Culbertson.
“I’d like to think it reflects that residents think we’re doing a good job,” said Flagello of the absence of opponents.
By Dan Moffett