Before any business was conducted by the St Johns County Board of Commissioners this morning, aside from the opening ceremonial proclamations, something new happened — in furtherance of the goal to achieve government in the sunshine, public comments were heard first on the agenda; before any elected official or appointed government official was heard to speak.
Before any deletions to the often controversial consent agenda, or approval of the consent agenda, before any additions or deletions to the regular agenda, or the approval of the regular agenda, first came the public — the way it should be. Government works for the public, not the other way around; although that gets a little fuzzy sometimes.
Despite the fact that the public was invited to comment on the business of the day, who knew that in the very first order of business, the Chairman, John “Jay” Morris, and three fellow commissioners, would act to commit the most non-transparent maneuver possible?
As chairman, Morris runs the agenda. On his own volition, without the need for public input or even a vote, Morris instructed the clerk to add a new agenda item, and it was an item of significant importance — the annual performance evaluation of the County Administrator and a review of his compensation.
The Vice-Chairman, Bill McClure, cried foul. The agenda for this morning’s meeting had already been advertised to the public without any mention of the County Administrator’s contract — a very sore subject with many civic-minded citizens and even some members of the board.
Only the District 23 Medical Examiner, Dr. Predrag Bulic, a licensed physician, makes more money than Michael Wanchick; and Dr. Bulic’s compensation, in part, is split between Putnam and Flagler counties, with St Johns County serving as the fiduciary.
County Administrator Wanchick claims $170,000.48 of the annual budget in salary, plus benefits-a-plenty; including special health care and life insurance as well as enhanced retirement, not offered to regular St Johns County employees, according to the 2012-2013 budget.
Over the objection of the vice-chairman, Chairman Morris moved the administrator’s annual review and salary discussion onto the regular agenda as the last item of the day.
Each commissioner completed an evaluation of the administrator; and, although less than unanimous, the majority rated Wanchick as exceeding expectations.
Ironically, the small attempt at transparency, afforded by moving public comments to their rightful place on the agenda, was now overshadowed by the actions of the chairman to usurp negotiation of the salary of the highest paid employee in the county.
To add insult to injury, while possibly explaining why the matter was slipped in under the radar without public scrutiny, on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner McClure objecting, the Board voted to award Wanchick and additional 14% pay increase.
Wanchick refused a request by McClure to surrender a controversial severance provision in his contract — a provision that would be illegal if attempted today. Under current Florida Law, the maximum severance a public official can command is six-month’s pay — thanks to Ray Quinn, Mark Miner, Ron Sanchez, and Joseph “Ken” Bryan, Wanchick enjoys an unheard of three-year’s pay as severance, and a contract that runs four more years, through 2017.
Quinn, Miner, Sanchez and Bryan, all of whom are now out-of-office, with the exception of Sanchez, burdened the county taxpayers with a contract that bound future commissions to keep the former commission’s choice of administrator under duress and penalty of about a half-million-dollar severance obligation. Cyndi Stevenson was the only objector to the original contract with Michael David Wanchick.
Wanchick is one of only two county employees hired and fired by the Board of Commissioners. Each of the constitutional officers, sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and clerk of court, are elected by the public and handle their own hiring and firing. The only other employee that serves at the pleasure of the board is the county attorney, Patrick McCormack. Everyone else who receives a county paycheck, just over 1,000 employees, answers to Wanchick.
This will, no doubt, be a morale killer for those 1,000+ employees who have been forced to take unpaid furloughs, union firefighters who forgave raises due them under contract, and the remainder of county employees who may receive a 1.5% pay raise in this coming year’s budget.