Beach officials to revamp employee policies; mayor’s setback issue settled

St. Augustine Beach commissioners supported a series of changes to the city’s employee management policies following a special meeting held on Thursday evening.


Vice Mayor Undine George called for the discussion on succession planning.

“We’ve … had quite a lot of look backs and passing the buck. … As the Commission, the people look to us to be the ones to oversee the city to make sure everyone’s job is done properly,” George said.

After the discussion, City Manager Max Royle said he plans to follow up on a number of issues, including updating the city’s sexual harassment policies. At the meeting, some commissioners raised concerns about how a sexual harassment allegation from several years ago had been handled.

Other initiatives include sensitivity training for employees, creating an investigation plan for employee grievances, having annual employee surveys, having an outside law firm on tap to investigate employee complaints, and allowing employees to weigh in on changing the personnel manual, Royle said.

The meeting also included discussion about how to plan for Royle’s eventual exit. Some suggested that St. Augustine Beach Police Chief Robert Hardwick serve as interim city manager if Royle has to leave abruptly.

Commissioners also discussed how to handle the retirement of Building Official Gary Larson, which is expected soon. One idea, suggested by Larson, is for the city to move to a part-time building official and a part-time planner instead of a full-time building official.

Setback problems

Earlier this week, commissioners voted 3-1 to allow Mayor Rich O’Brien and his wife, Lauren Ringhaver, via their business 810 Beach Inc., to modify a conditional use permit granted for their F Street properties. But commissioners also voted to require his team to pay $25,000 to reimburse the city for time involved in addressing the issue.

Also, his team agreed to correct a cantilever that was also found to be against city regulations, a correction expected to cost thousands of additional dollars.

The conditional use permit, granted by the commission in 2016, allowed O’Brien and his wife to build two houses on F Street. One condition of the permit was that the western setback would be 15 feet, but it was built with a setback of about 12 feet instead.

The commission’s decision allows the setback to stay as built.

Sid Ansbacher, attorney for 810 Beach Inc., said that the order was never delivered to the applicant. Also, a representative of the builder said they were under the impression that the setback was supposed to be 12 feet.

Several people spoke at the meeting, both in support of O’Brien and the amendment and those against it.

O’Brien recused himself from the vote. Commissioner Maggie Kostka voted against the amendment.

George said she felt that $20,000 might not be enough to set a precedent to keep a similar mistake from happening. She changed a previous motion to adjust the penalty from $20,000 to $25,000. She also said later that she believes it is a fair solution that recognizes both sides, the city and O’Brien and his team, contributed to the error.

“I feel very unsettled about this entire situation. … There is no easy answer, but I do think that there would be some good healing in the community to be able to move forward,” George said.