The mayor of St. John's warned the cost of replacing outgoing city manager Bob Smart will be about $250,000.
"It's going to take four to six months to get another city manager. It's going to cost a quarter-million dollars, approximately. The full cost," said Dennis O'Keefe this week, adding the job search to replace Smart's predecessor cost between $150,000 and $200,000.
O'Keefe said the vote to not extend Smart's contract - which expires this month - was not close, and he thinks council made a mistake in letting Smart go.
"In the last three years he's done a wonderful job in many ways," said O'Keefe. "In terms of the reorganization of the city, he has brought the city now to a position, administratively, where we're well-poised for the next 15 years or so to facilitate economic growth and development, and also to bring about a higher level of service to people who live in the city."
O'Keefe said Smart stabilized the city's financial picture by moving to a three-year budget cycle, and said Smart made a special effort to keep residential taxes from increasing. "That was always his focus, and I appreciated that more than I can even say," said O'Keefe. "Every year when Mr. Smart did the budget, his premise to staff was, 'In preparing your budget, I want you to look at no tax increases. That has to be your overriding principle.'"
Coun. Art Puddister, however, disputed the $250,000 figure cited by the mayor.
"I asked (city clerk and acting city manager) Neil Martin. He said the bill should be in the range of $50,000 to $75,000," said Puddister, who added Martin told him the bill to recruit Smart was in that range as well.
Asked what reasons were given by councillors who voted against extending the contract, O'Keefe said there were none given at Monday's meeting.
"None of them gave a reason. Nobody," said O'Keefe. "I asked for reasons, and I was greeted by silence."
Coun. Tom Hann - who said he was shocked by the vote not to extend Smart's contract - backed up the mayor's version of events, and said he voted to extend the contract. "Bob Smart is a true professional. He's got a long, successful history with the province, and while he was here he initiated the new strategic plan that we're working on, giving a new vision for the city," said Hann.
For the most part, councillors reached by The Telegram declined to reveal which way they voted, or what their reasons were - citing privacy concerns - or whether those concerns were aired at the meeting. Coun. Dave Lane said Smart's contributions to city hall were "numerous and well-recorded," and Coun. Sandy Hickman said, "I don't think anyone should think the city was in trouble or was been poorly served, but it's just the end of a contract, and we're moving on in a different direction."
But Puddister said he outlined his reasons for not wanting to extend the contract at the private meeting Monday when councillors voted on it, and it was misleading of the mayor to say he was greeted with silence.
"That's not true at all," said Puddister, adding the mayor did ask why after the vote was taken. Procedurally, said Puddister, councillors didn't have to explain their reasoning after the motion to extend the contract was rejected, but he did anyway.
"I gave my reasoning, and I left it at that, as to how I voted," said Puddister, who declined to share his reasons with The Telegram. "I'm not going to get into it. ... Mr. Smart came from the provincial government with approximately 30 years experience, and I think it's time now that the city moved in a new direction. He was engaged with the previous council, and this is a new council."