City Commission OKs new manager’s contract

The City Commission discusses new Manager Tom Barwin’s contract with its headhunter, Colin Baenziger (second from right) and Kurt Hoverter, the city’s human resources director. Photo by Norman Schimmel

After some last-minute give-and-take Aug. 2, the Sarasota City commissioners offered a contract to Tom Barwin, their pick to be the next city manager. All of the terms were as previously reported: $175,000 annual salary, $600 per-month car allowance and $15,000 for moving expenses.

However, the commissioners took two days to digest a clause Barwin desired in the contract to protect him in case the city had a sudden change of government.

Three times since 1996, proponents have gathered signatures to put a strong-mayor referendum before city voters. In each case, the measure failed. In 2002, it pulled only 30% of the vote. During the commission’s Aug. 20 meeting, a fourth proposal will be introduced by City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo.

A so-called “strong mayor” form of government eliminates the need for a professional city manager, so Barwin wanted some job security in case a referendum eliminated his position. He proposed a contract clause stopping the commission from discharging him immediately if such a referendum passed.

That clause, however, runs afoul of the city charter, which allows the commission to fire a city manager by a simple 3-2 majority at any time for any reason.

City Attorney Bob Fournier said of the clause in Barwin’s contract, “It’s just intended as a guard against a premature termination if the form of government changes.”

The original contract offered an extra two years to Barwin if a strong-mayor form of government went into effect, but Barwin asked that the period be extended to three years. By 3-2 vote, commissioners approved the provision, with Commissioner Shannon Snyder and Caragiulo in the minority.

With that vote, Fournier indicated Mayor Suzanne Atwell could offer Barwin the total contract.