St. Denis resigns

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St. Denis

Longboat Key Town Manager Bruce St. Denis signed a separation agreement Friday, Sept. 16, officially ending his 14 years of service to the town.

The agreement to depart followed the news that a majority of the seven-member Town Commission wants him out of office.

And while speculation as to why a majority of the board is so dissatisfied with St. Denis that they wish him to resign has run rampant over the past few days, Town Attorney Dave Persson said St. Denis is the exception in his longevity in the position.

“Mr. St. Denis has served the town of Longboat Key for more than 14 years,” said Persson. “That’s the longest serving town manager in the town’s history. The average tenure for a town manager is about five years. The fact that Bruce has been here for almost three times the average is testimony to his skills.”

So what happened? Several commissioners have expressed a growing collective voice that the town is facing tremendous challenges in redevelopment, fixing its pension liabilities, and affording labor contracts services and beach maintenance. Several want to see change and want a “change agent,” have decided that while St. Denis’ strengths were the right fit for the past cycle of the island, the future calls for a different skill set, and that St. Denis is just too tied to the policies and some of the problems that the board is trying to repair.


“Times change. People change. Issues change. Needs change. The administrative challenges facing Longboat Key today have little or nothing in common with the administrative challenges that Longboat faced in 1997 when Bruce was hired,” explained Persson.

St. Denis has held the top position in the town as manager for 14 years and while he was aware of performance issues and was told on several occasions over the past six months that his job was in jeopardy, it was last Monday that St. Denis learned that five of seven commissioners — enough to terminate him according to town law — had serious performance issues.

Mayor Jim Brown had asked Town Attorney David Persson a week prior to independently poll commissioners one-by-one to gauge what he sensed was growing dissatisfaction.

Five — Mayor Jim Brown, Vice Mayor Dave Brenner and Commissioners Lynn Larson, Jack Duncan and Phill Younger all expressed issues with St. Denis.

Commissioners Hal Lenobel and Pat Zunz did not want to see St. Denis gone, and Lenobel has verbally supported and defended St. Denis throughout the process.

Persson told St. Denis the results and encouraged St. Denis to talk to each commissioner, and he did. St. Denis concluded after his discussions that a majority wanted him out of the position and that triggered his decision to voluntarily leave.

Persson said the mayor was aware of performance issues and if a majority were inclined, it would allow St. Denis the opportunity to make his own decision instead of putting him through a review that would become part of his employment record. It was an attempt to humanize the process, said Persson.


The cost of leaving
The terms of the town’s contact with the manager state that if St. Denis exits voluntarily, no severance is granted unless one is negotiated. If St. Denis opted not to resign, five commissioners could terminate without cause and the town would have to pay St. Denis one year’s worth of salary and benefits in a severance package that would cost about $260,000 to taxpayers.

And instead of putting himself through a review process that appeared destined to end in termination, the voluntary stepping away and granting of the severance was negotiated and agreed upon Friday afternoon.

The terms of the termination agreement state that St. Denis will be on call to assist the interim town manager starting Monday, Sept. 19 until Oct. 15.

Within seven days following Oct. 15, the town will pay a total of $268,364.81 to St. Denis in severance in the following breakdown:

• Twelve months base salary totaling $177,507.20.

• $49,702.01, representing 28 percent of his base salary into his existing 401K

• $16,507.79 for 12 months of medical premiums

• $24,647.81 in unused vacation pay

St. Denis also agreed to not criticize the agreement or any aspect arising out of the agreement. Both the town and St. Denis also released each other from any future liability for past official acts and actions.

Because St. Denis’ contract does not call for severance for voluntary termination, the Town Commission must vote to authorize giving the $268,000 to St. Denis. To that end, a special meeting will be held at 2 p.m., Monday, Sept. 19 to consider the agreement, which St. Denis has already signed.

St. Denis told Longboat Key News Friday evening that he has no regrets and that the opportunity to manage Longboat Key was the crowning event of his career.

“The friends I have made, the people I was lucky enough to work with and the community as a whole made me proud to call myself ‘Town Manager.’ Longboat is one of the most special places I have ever been, and I am thankful I could play a part in the life of the key.”

Mayor Brown issued a statement Friday outlining the steps he wishes to take. He said that he sees the process for finding a permanent successor to be in three stages.

“First, we need to appoint an acting town manager to address the day-to-day activities of the town,” said Brown.

Brown said he prefers this appointment be for a short time, from several days to a couple of weeks, while the commission selects an interim town manager. His preference is that an interim town manager be an individual selected from outside of the organization who has extensive experience in governmental management.

“I believe it is essential that that person understand governmental systems, accountability and responsibility. He should be selected as quickly as possible. I do not want merely a caretaker while we search for a permanent town manager. We have many matters pending. Waiting for a permanent town manager before we address pending issues is, in my opinion, a mistake,” said Brown.

To streamline and expedite this process, the mayor has asked the town attorney to make contact and explore options for an interim town manager.

Brown said it is important that the board come to a consensus as to the type of interim town manager they seek. Brown believes the interim manager can expect to be employed by the town from six to eight months while the town conducts a search for a permanent manager.

Brown added that the process for selection of the permanent town manager should include development of the type of manager the commission is looking for as well as a proposed salary range.

Brown also thanked St. Denis for his willingness to continue to be available to the town to assist in this transfer of authority.

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Longboat Key News

8 Responses for “St. Denis resigns”

  1. hosting says:

    Thankyou for all your efforts that you have put in this. extremely interesting information.

  2. Anne Arsenault says:

    I have watched with horror at the strange ways of the people who think they are running this Key. The lack of professionalism is terrifying. The one man who was holding it all together they have fired, So now we can redo all the policies this new group doesn’t like. I fear for our beaches and our lack of development. Maybe it’s time to move. Who could they find who could ever control this bunch of amateurs?

  3. Georgie McFarland says:

    The Town Attorney, the messenger of bad tiddings, will be the next one gillotined by the Commission.

  4. Georgie McFarland says:

    What now will happen to Coastal Planning and Engineering without Bruce to throw them their bones?

  5. John S. Beeman says:

    Serving as the “neck” of a funnel to 7 politicians is a difficult task. Bruce takes with him a enormous amount of knowledge and experience. The learning curve for his replacement will be equally challenging. We can only hope that our current Commissioners are up to the task to 1) find an equally knowledgeable replacement and/or 2) have patience while the replacement comes up to speed. Good luck to you, Bruce. I’m sure we all wish you well.

  6. Spencer Ross says:

    One down, two more to go.

  7. As one who has observed the travails of Longboat Key from afar since 1972 I found this narrative most concise, competent and complete.

    I have two observations.

    First, the tenure of any city manager is tenuous at best and Mr. St. Denis has served well but to long in the same place. City Managers are best rotated every seven to ten years. It is just the nature of the position.

    Second, your WAE (When Actually Employed) town attorney also fits within the cycle of rotation. Sadly, or not, in America today we have more attorney’s then necessary so it my well be time for a replacement of Mr. Dave Persson as well.

    Good City Managers are harder to find then an attorney!

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