SEBRING — For most of the past three decades, George Hensley sat in front in the Sebring City Council meeting room, as either a councilman or a mayor.
On Tuesday, Hensley, who did not seek re-election last year, returned with a small group of people to a budget meeting to seek more information about the City Council’s decision to eliminate the city’s planning director position. He questioned its timing since James M. “Jim” Polatty Jr., who does that job, was on vacation last week when the decision was made.
Polatty, whose position would be eliminated as of Oct. 1, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Hensley asked for more information regarding the decision to eliminate the position.
Councilman Scott Stanley, the council’s liaison to the department who made the recommendation, called it “unfortunate” that the decision was made while Polatty was on vacation.
But, he said, that the city is adopting a tight budget, which requires that spending be cut. One way of cutting expenditures, he said, was to eliminate Polatty’s position and contract with the Central Florida Planning Council for $20,000 a year. City officials say that’s a savings of around $60,000 when considering Polatty’s salary and benefits.
Stanley said that he felt it was appropriate to bring up the matter at the meeting because it was a budget meeting. He only became aware that Polatty was on vacation shortly before broaching the subject.
Hensley said he was not questioning the council’s decision regarding the position, but only how it was handled. He was said he felt the timing wasn’t good.
But Pat Leidel, another resident who attended the meeting, questioned both the decision and the timing. She said that while the planning council will only charge $20,000 for basic services, as the city needs more services, the cost will increase.
Leidel said that she renovated a building on the circle and appreciated getting help from Polatty. She questioned whether the help would be so readily available if his position is eliminated.
She said the City Council “failed on all accounts” when it came to how the decision was handled. She said for the council to decide that when Polatty was on vacation was “insensitive” to someone who for much of his career has been committed to public service. The council didn’t even give him the courtesy of telling him face-to-face the decision, she said.
In retrospect, Councilman Mark Stewart said, the decision wasn’t done well and the timing was “unfortunate.”
The City Council hired Polatty in Nov. 2009 with only former Councilman John Clark opposing the decision. Clark said he felt the city should save money rather than fill the position.
Polatty was development director for Highlands County for 14 years before that.