NEW PORT RICHEY — New Port Richey City Manager Debbie Manns was given a 3% raise by the same mayor and City Council that showered her with praise and offered the potential of an assistant to help out with the “plates” described by one councilman as getting “fuller, fuller and fuller.”
The vote was unanimous as the council conducted Manns’ annual evaluation a few months late because of COVID-19 considerations.
Manns was not granted her request to uncap the number of vacation hours she can accrue for pay out after her employment ends from the current 350-hour limit included in her contract. Those accrued hours are required to be paid to Manns at the time of her separation from the city no matter the reason for that action.
However, council members did agree to an offer by Manns that any payout accrued for unused vacation time when her employment ends would be limited to 600 hours.
The city manager, who was earning $88,690 annually entering her seventh year at the city’s administrative helm, reported she is now at the 400-hour level and another 18 days would be added on the anniversary date of her employment.
“My request is to remove the cap, understanding I recognize fully the importance of (the council) for me maintaining an appropriate work/life balance and taking vacation time,” Manns said. “But, I think that all of you jointly will recognize the number of impediments in recent years that have precluded me from taking regular vacation time and so I am asking for that consideration.”
That consideration came after Manns heard the exemplary impression she had left with the council about the work she has done.
Mayor Rob Marlowe noted his tenure in the mayor’s chair has run almost parallel to Manns’ tenure as city manager.
“During my previous time on City Council, I had the opportunity to interact with a number of other city managers,” Marlowe said. “I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that Ms. Manns is the pick of the litter compared to the others.”
“There was one decision I made while on council that has impacted the city most and that was hiring Debbie Manns,” said Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey. “I praise her publicly over and over again. I praise her privately. We would not be nearly where we are without Debbie. She does an absolutely incredible job.”
“We are blessed to have you leading our city and I hope you continue to want the job for as long as possible,” Starkey added. “You’ll be very hard to replace when that time comes and I don’t even like to think about that.”
Councilman Matt Murphy said Manns “answers my calls anytime day or night” and has been helpful to him as a new member of the City Council.
“It’s a tough job and she gets pulled in so many different directions,” Murphy said. “It’s like herding cats, but she does it and keeps it all together.”
“Where I think you excel is in leadership, communication, judgment, initiative, planning, organization and goals,” Councilman Chipper Davis told Manns. “I think a lot of that because you accept this place as your hometown.”
Davis did express concerns about removing the vacation accrual cap, with Manns affirming police and fire personnel do have accrual caps in their contracts.
“I would like to pay you some number every year,” Davis said. “You could be here another 10 years and we owe you for thousands of hours.”
Councilman Peter Altman was in agreement that “bunching up a large till at the point of departure could be a burden.”
“I would agree with compensation pay for buying back some of that time or limiting the time when paying it out,” Altman said. “I think a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. What I don’t want is someone still on the books getting paid and not being here for an extended period of time taking a long vacation and leaving the city unmanaged or in trouble.”
Altman said he was critical of the lack of support for the city manager.
“I would support her in (adding) an assistant city manager position,” he said, noting the other department heads are busy with their own ever-increasing responsibilities.
“I have made the appeal once before to have the old-fashioned ‘city engineer’ that can help us to identify projects,” Altman added. “With some of these larger planning activities going on, the city manager could use more assistance and help. Her plate is getting fuller, and fuller and fuller. That’s my impression.”
Starkey said Manns was not choosing to not take vacation, “it’s being forced upon her.”
“So, if she is in favor of hiring an assistant — maybe someone out of college who wants to make a career out of it,” Starkey said. “If I was just out of college and I had majored in fiscal management, she’s the one I would want to work with.”
“If she wants an assistant, and finds someone she feels is capable, I am more than OK with that,” he added. “As far as the accrued vacation hours, I’m going to leave it up to her. If she is here another 10 years and has a thousand hours, pay her. It’s worth it. I’ll support whatever she requests. That’s how much faith I have in her and the job that she’s done.”
Marlowe suggested Manns place the assistant manager post in next year’s budget.
“I plan to do so, Mr. Mayor,” Manns responded.
Manns then made the offer to make the limit 600 hours.
“That way you don’t have to figure out a system of when to pay and how much to pay,” she said. “It’s just at my time of separation (pay) up to 600 hours.”