This week, the Summerfield Town Council voted 4-to-1 to give Town Manager Scott Whitaker two months’ notice that the council would not be renewing his current contract – leaving 99 percent of the people in that town convinced that the council would not be renewing any contract at all with Whitaker.

At the meeting, before delivering the blow in the wee hours of Valentine’s Day morning, one councilmember spoke of a possible “renegotiation,” while another spoke highly of Whitaker’s dedication and contributions to the town. Another cited problems with the contract, not with Whitaker. But it was clear to many that this 1 a.m. vote was just a nice way of saying, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

One former town official familiar with the discussions, when asked if there was any possibility Whitaker would end up as manager after the current contract expires, stated, “Not a chance.”

Summerfield is a deeply divided town – in a nutshell, over whether to promote or stave off development – and Whitaker managed to ride that twisting bull and hold onto his job for roughly 12 years while many in the town, and some on the Town Council, saw him as a manager too much on the pro-development side.

Whitaker still had the support of Summerfield Mayor Tim Sessoms, but in Summerfield the mayor gets a vote only in the case of a tie, and, even if Sessoms had had a vote, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Previous Town Councils that supported Whitaker strongly – even made changes in his contract to help make it harder for him to get fired.  For instance, in 2019, the Town Council voted to amend Whitaker’s contract and put in a requirement that the town pay him a full year’s salary – currently just over $150,000 – if the council terminated his contract before it was up for renewal. Before that amendment, his contract allowed him six month’s pay if he was terminated prematurely.

Summerfield leaders recently took a look at the possibility of changing the type of government from one led by a manager to one where the town is managed directly by the mayor and the Town Council.  However, that idea does not appear to be on the table any longer.

As divided as the town of 11,000 currently is, some say no one will want to apply for the manager’s job. But, when it comes to managing local governments, there are always a good number of willing applicants who think they’re up to the challenge.