Port Richey finalizes contract with new city manager

Port Richey City Council finalized and approved the contract for its next full-time city manager, Michael John Dudte. He is expected to arrive from Kansas and be ready to get to work in about four weeks.

PORT RICHEY — After grinding through a nearly four-hour meeting Dec. 8 that included the discussion of the new city manager’s contract, the City Council needed nothing more than a few minutes to approve it during a special meeting Dec. 15.

Coming to an agreement with Michael John Dudte and finalizing those terms last week officially marked the end to a six-month search process to fill the position vacated by Vincent Lupo this spring.

The motion to approve Dudte’s contract passed by 4-0 vote, with Councilman Todd Maklary not in attendance at the special meeting. Council adjourned after 2 minutes and 40 seconds of meeting time, a stark difference from 3 hours and 51 minutes a week prior. That meeting ran longer than usual because of a rezoning issue for a new townhome project on Washington Street just east of the U.S. Highway 19 bridge.

Dudte, who is coming to Port Richey from Chapman, Kansas, will receive $120,000 annually and the contract is for three years. The length, however, is a moot point, because it is an at-will contract, City Attorney James Mathieu explained at the Dec. 8 meeting.  At-will contracts can be terminated by the city at any time for any reason, except an illegal one.

The annual salary sparked some discussion among the council because the number Mathieu initially mentioned as Dudte’s request was $130,000.

“When we were interviewing, he was asked that question and he made a comment about $120,000,” Councilman Tom Kinsella said. “He said he would be happy with $120,000.”

Maklary agreed with Kinsella. “We’re just asking him to abide by what he said in his own interview, so it’s really no change from there.”

Councilwoman Jennie Sorrell expressed reservations at either figure, $130,000 or $120,000 annually. “Our last city manager was at $94,000, I believe, with a car and a couple other little amenities. That’s a pretty drastic raise in the city manager’s salary.”

When asked by Mayor Scott Tremblay if she’s OK with the $120,000 figure, Sorrell responded, “reluctantly.”

Council also agreed to provide $9,000 for moving expenses, as Dudte relocates his family from Dickinson County in northeast Kansas to west Pasco County.

The final issue to resolve focused on the requirement of Dudte and his family living within city limits.

“I chatted with the candidate at some length and being forced to live in the city limits would be problematic,” Mathieu said. “He has a family. Certain parameters in terms of what type of house he would live in, things like that, limits his choices. He said maybe we can do something within a certain distance of City Hall. Maybe five miles or something like that.

“I’m not saying making him live in the city would be a deal breaker, but it could be problematic.”

Councilman William Dittmer leaned toward keeping living in the city a must, but opinions from others weren’t strong either way.

“I think that living in the city limits, you think more about some of the decisions that are made within the city because you live in it,” Dittmer said. “I understand why it was put in there originally, so yes, he has fewer choices, but that was actually in the paperwork originally.”

“I’m neutral on that issue,” Tremblay said. “I do like the idea that if he’s not in the city he’s very close by.”

Council came to an agreement on asking Dudte to try to find a place within city limits, but if not, have the residence be within about five miles of City Hall. Wherever that home ends up being located, Dudte will have six months from the start of employment to find it.

“I’ve looked on Zillow; I think the 5-mile radius is fair,” Tremblay said. “I’ve recently been down that road.”

Council members also addressed the issue of a potential city manager-less gap period. Dudte is not expected to be in Port Richey for about four weeks. Prior to his arrival, interim City Manager Len Sossamon’s six-month contract was set to expire. Tremblay suggested keeping Sossamon employed for as long as it takes Dudte to arrive and get to work, and to pay Sossamon the rate he was receiving the past six months.

“If you want to extend it for however long it takes … I’m sure it’s going to take him four weeks, which is not uncommon,” Sossamon said, agreeing to remain with the city for a little while longer.