On Tuesday, May 14, the Summerfield Town Council extended the severance package of Town Manager Scott Whitaker from six months to a year in case he’s terminated without cause. Hours later, Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham sent out a scathing statement to the media attacking the move. In the wake of that statement, town council members who voted for the extension are saying the mayor’s comments were unfounded and uncalled for, and also that Whitaker is an excellent manager who puts up with much more than any town or city manager should ever have to.
Town Councilmember John O’Day said one justification for the decision to approve a year’s salary and benefits in case of termination without cause is that the unfair public attacks on Whitaker by the mayor and others have no doubt greatly hurt his chances for employment if he seeks a job as a manager for another town or city.
“A lot of what is said about him isn’t true,” O’Day said. “I know he feels tainted.”
O’Day added that Whitaker has been under constant public attack by the mayor and others even though his actual job performance is very impressive.
“This was one way we could honor his commitment to the town,” O’Day said of the generous contract amendment approved Tuesday night.
According to O’Day, Whitaker is very detailed and extremely proficient at a wide range of tasks. He said that, as manager, Whitaker has to have a good knowledge of ordinances and municipal law as well as a plethora of skills such as the ability to effectively negotiate contracts.
He also said Whitaker had been very effective over the years at saving the town money through his negotiation skills. O’Day said that, for instance, the town hall needed perhaps $200,000 in renovations at one point and Whitaker found a solution for $30,000.
“Negotiating contracts is a skill in itself,” O’Day said.
O’Day said one of the mayor’s complaint’s about Whitaker is that he “doesn’t finish projects,” but the truth, O’Day added, is that the Summerfield Town Council is the one that determines which projects are completed and which ones are not.
O’Day also said that fellow Town Councilmember Reece Walker came up with the idea to reward Whitaker with the severance pay extension. O’Day said that struck him as an excellent suggestion.
The Town Council voted 3-to-1 to approve the move. Dunham, as mayor, doesn’t get a vote except when there’s a tie.
Some of Whitaker’s advocates point out that, as a small town manager, he’s often the one who must do things like unclog the plumbing with a plunger if that’s what’s needed – and he has to do all sorts of other odd jobs that must get done.
Walker said the idea came to him because Whitaker had been the victim of unfair attacks that have greatly hurt his chances of future employability in this line of work. He said town managers often have to take political heat but no one should have to endure the kind of treatment Whitaker has over the last two years as factions in the town have battled it out.
“I don’t mind that he gets a little friction,” Walker said, adding quickly that Whitaker has been the recipient of a whole lot more than a little friction.