Divided Lox Council Grants Underwood Two-Year Extension

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved the town manager’s two-year contract extension Tuesday, Aug. 7 in a 3-2 decision with council members Phillis Maniglia and David DeMarois dissenting after a two-hour discussion whether to limit the extension to one year.

Town Manager Bill Underwood said the proposed two-year contract was structured as a transition plan for the town, allowing contractual staff to transition into town employees.

“At the end of year one, you would take over two positions that the town does not fund relative to finance,” Underwood said. “At the end of year two, any of the employees who wish to be employed by the town in the interim during budget year two, we would budget whatever that amount would be. We’re trying to be as generous as possible.”

Underwood added that in the four years that he has been manager, he has not taken a vacation or time off, so he included six weeks’ time off for himself.

“That does not mean I am not working, because I think all of you know that I am working 24/7/365,” he said. “I get e-mails on July 4, Christmas Eve, New Year’s, and respond to your calls and citizens’ requests in those periods. So even, though I may be taking time off away from the office, it does not mean I am not working.”

Underwood said the purpose of the two-year contract was to move the contracted employees to the town smoothly, including the training of an assistant manager to take his place if the council so chooses.

DeMarois had many questions, including whether Underwood would be paid for his six weeks off, and whether legal staff had reviewed the proposed contract. Acting Town Attorney Jacob Horowitz said he had reviewed it with Town Attorney Michael Cirullo and it met legal sufficiency.

DeMarois was also concerned that the contract indicated that Underwood would be treated as an employee, although he was still a contract worker.

He and Maniglia both asked about the council being unable to interfere with town employees other than through the manager. Underwood said the manager has sole supervision of employees, and council members with problems with an employee should make their complaint to him.

“You don’t get involved with daily personnel operations,” Underwood said. “You set the policy.”

DeMarois and Maniglia also questioned the two-year extension to the contract, and Underwood reiterated that the purpose was to provide a smooth transition.

“After I’m gone, the idea was to protect the town and the residents,” Underwood said.

DeMarois also questioned a provision that when Underwood is working on complaints from the Palm Beach County Office of the Inspector General, he would bill the town separately for that because of the number of OIG complaints filed.

“It means that if the OIG has an inquiry, because we have a propensity to have people filing OIG complaints, anytime me or my staff work on that complaint, I will be billing the town separately,” Underwood said. “The town can then, in turn, bill the OIG.”

Vice Mayor Todd McLendon said that anytime the OIG comes looking for documents, they should be billed, and Horowitz said that was legal under state statutes, although he was not sure that the OIG could be legally compelled to comply in excess of what public records law provides.

DeMarois also questioned the cost to the town of Underwood having six weeks off, and Underwood explained that he does not draw a salary, because he has hired employees that the town does not pay for. The rate of the contract was the same as the previous year, at $41,311 a month.

After asking several more questions, DeMarois said he did not plan to vote for the contract.

“Before going any further, I just want to state for the record that after reviewing this… I won’t be supporting it,” DeMarois said.

Maniglia said she favored a one-year contract with a 60-day termination clause and putting out a request for proposals for new management.

“First, we have to fix our RFP, so I am all for getting an evaluation of this town, somebody from outside,” she said, adding that she also did not like Underwood Management Services Group selecting an assistant manager as a possible future manager.

Browning said the selection of a future manager would be in the hands of the council, and it could choose someone else.

Maniglia added that she opposed the contract because animosity from town staff had been directed at her, as well as other residents of the town.

After further discussion, McLendon made a motion to approve the two-year contract extension, which carried 3-2 with DeMarois and Maniglia opposed.