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Don't rehire manager, Groveland

First-time city manager was a flop — the council should hire one with experience.

Ask it, Groveland.

Ask your city council candidates the obvious question. Ask it over and over until you get a straight yes-or-no answer: The question is this: Would you rehire City Manager Redmond Jones?

Last week, the Groveland council voted 3-2 to dismiss Jones after he sued the city for putting him on paid administrative leave, saying that the suspension was tantamount to a dismissal.

Three council members did the right thing. Jones has flouted the city council's authority and allowed sticky personnel matters that could have been quietly handled to blow up into crazy citywide drama. He has tried to drag the council into projects he wants but they don't. He clearly is confused about who is in charge.

However, Jones could get another chance at the job in three weeks.

Sound bizarre? This is Groveland. Stranger things have happened. Consider the politics that are in play for the Nov. 8 election:

Of the three council members who voted to dismiss Jones, the seat of only one — Mike Radzik — is not on the ballot. Mayor Tim Loucks, who voted against Jones, had to resign to run for county commission, and his seat up for grabs in a three-way race between two pro-Jones candidates and an anti-Jones one who is suing the city and the city manager. The other is outspoken councilwoman Dina Sweatt, who is seeking re-election and being challenged by a pro-Jones candidate.

Of the two who voted to keep Jones, on is not up for re-election this year, and Jones supporter John Griffin wants another term. However, his challenger also is open to rehiring the city manager. By Nov. 9, only one council member could oppose rehiring Jones.

Taking Jones back would be asking for unceasing trouble.

The city manager acts as though he is self-employed and mistakenly calls it "leadership." That tactic never works. It began when he slipped an item into the budget several years ago for an amphitheater -- even though council members already had said they didn't want one.

Then, there was the $52 million downtown project Jones shopped around town before taking it to the council for consideration. That sort of action isn't designed to build a working relationship with the bosses, only mistrust.

There's also the police corporal Jones allowed the now-former chief to persecute, which turned out to be a harebrained, personal battle that went on for more than a year. In the end, it cost the city and its insurance company more than $312,000 for the corporal to drop her retaliation claims. (The insurance firm has threatened that 12 claims since 2013 could have a "significant financial impact" when the city tries to renew its insurance.)

A more recent example of Jones openly thumbing his nose at his bosses came when it appeared that the council on Sept. 6 was moving to dismiss an employee -- a longtime friend of Jones' -- by cutting funding for his position. Early on the morning of Sept. 7, Jones gave his friend a written offer of a different job with a $13,606 raise — without telling the council members as required. So there, council. Stick it in your ear.

Jones gets flummoxed under pressure, and he reacts by using bad judgment. For example, he sent a letter to the developer of a community where one of his critics lives, hinting the resident is violent and asking the developer to curtail his free speech on the community website. Now that resident is running for mayor. That wouldn't make for a contentious city, would it?

A recent report by Specialized Dispute Resolution, a company hired by the city, concluded that Jones has "a relaxed attitude towards City Council and their authority." The company warned that the council should consider his dismissive tactics when deciding what to do.

The problem is that Jones never had been a city manager or even an assistant, and Groveland council members hired him anyway. That's on them. There was far too little vetting in 2013 when the council took a chance on this first-timer.

Several council members have said that in interviews, Jones talked of being an assistant city manager when he actually was an assistant to the city manager. Had they bothered to read his resume, they would have seen it correctly stated his job titles. Though the two positions sound similar, they are quite different — an assistant to a city manager typically has never had the responsibility of day-to-day city operations, a critical requirement for a city manager. Such a job often involves tasks such as keeping a particular project on track or appearing at a meeting on the manager's behalf.

New council members shouldn't tramp back through this cesspool. Jones' actions, which according to the dispute resolution company included asking the finance officer how to hide misuse of a credit card, should seal the city manger's departure forever.

The city and its new council members should see this as an opportunity to start fresh by carefully scrutinizing manager candidates and hiring a person with experience and more seasoned judgment. A qualified city manager with a fair salary will save far more in a single year than what this poor one has cost, not only in cash but in community trust.

Lritchie@orlandosentinel.com. Lauren invites you to send her a friend request on Facebook at www.facebook.com/laurenonlake.

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