Sunday, July 28, 2013

Belle Isle's Latest Distinction: The Hiring of Keith Severns

by Sue Nielsen

After recently approving Keith Severns' City Manager contract on July 26, Belle Isle has earned the dubious distinction of hiring one of the highest-paid and least-qualified city managers in all of central Florida – perhaps in the entire state! A comparison of city manager qualifications in cities throughout the Sunshine State reveals that virtually all city managers have at least a four year college degree if not a graduate degree. Many city managers also have over ten years of experience in the job.  By comparison, Keith Severns has only earned a high school diploma and had zero City Manager experience prior to being hired by our City. So the reasoning behind our City Council's choice to hire Mr. Severns without considering other applicants, and then pay him one of the highest city manager salaries in the state, is rather unclear.

Although many factors go into determining a city manager salary, the general trend is that larger cities pay more than smaller cities with regard to salary and benefits. Other factors include whether the city has municipal utilities and the number of city employees. As a small city with no municipal utilities and relatively few city employees, there don't seem to be any factors supporting anything higher than a modest City Manager salary.

Mayor Brooks previously stated that he asked our city attorney to research salaries, responsibilities, and qualifications for comparable city manager positions. However, either this research was never performed or the city attorney never made his report public. Regardless, a contract was presented at the June 29 workshop meeting after being added to the meeting agenda less than 12 hours before the 8:30 a.m. workshop meeting.

The emergency that justified this last minute addition to the meeting agenda remains a mystery. However, Commissioner Readey suspects that the city manager contract was added to the agenda after Mayor Brooks learned that Mr. Readey – a vocal opponent to this City Manager contract – would be absent from the workshop meeting for medical reasons. Mr. Readey believes that the Council rushed to vote on the city manager contract in his absence to ensure a smooth approval without opposition.

So after every Commissioner in attendance voted to approve the contract at last month’s workshop meeting, Mr. Severns has finally received his written City Manager contract. He now receives a base salary of $150,000 per year plus generous benefits including a $500 per month vehicle allowance and the ability to remain on the City payroll for an additional six months after termination of his employment contract. You can view a copy of his entire employment contract here:

City Manager Contract from July 26, 2013 Meeting Agenda

Although our City Attorney never performed, or at least never presented, any of his promised research on city managers, I performed my own research and emailed it to Mayor Brooks and each City Commissioner on May 7, 2013. I received no response from anyone at City Hall except Commissioner Readey. Apparently, no one else thought these facts were relevant to determining a fair and reasonable salary for our City Manager. Here are the facts that our City Council had before them before approving Mr. Severns’ hiring and $150,000+ salary:

I obtained city population information from the 2010 census data. Then I selected cities throughout Florida that have a manager-council form of government as well as populations within 1500 residents of Belle Isle’s estimated population. By accessing the Florida Statewide Government Personnel Survey, I was able to produce the following table summarizing the city manager salaries and education levels in those cities.

Treasure Island7500$105,046Bachelor's Degree10 years
Clewiston6357$85,000Bachelor's Degree3-4 years
Dade City6133$75,000Bachelor's Degree10 years
Fellsmere5108$115,000Bachelor's Degree5-7 years
High Springs5350$55,000Bachelor's Degree10 years
Live Oak6480$65,000Bachelor's Degree10 years
Newberry4950$86,112Master's Degree10 years
Sanibel6374$105,046Bachelor's Degree10 years
St. Augustine Beach6241$106,587Bachelor's Degree5-7 years
Surfside5800$18,000Bachelor's Degree10 years

So the next time you hear Mayor Brooks complain about the minuscule cost of mailing election announcements, or the next time he says that the City does not have money to fix your broken sidewalk or constantly-flooded street, think of the above table and the over $150,000 per year we are paying to Mr. Severns. Consider how many highly educated and experienced individuals in our area would happily take Mr. Severns’ job for half the amount we are paying him. I know I can name a few.

Remember that the qualification date for city council candidates from districts 1 and 7 is coming up this November. It’s time we elect some new Commissioners who will stand up to the corruption and cronyism that has permitted our City Council to approve such an exorbitant salary for a high-school educated city manager with no prior experience. Please email the Sun at if you are interested in running for Commissioner in districts 1 or 7. We’ll be happy to help you every step along the way!


  1. Thanks for pointing out the misguided directions the City of Belle Isle Mayor and Commissioners seem to be taking. At this rate, we will be the next Detroit, bankrupted. It is time we the electorate band together and reelect a new slate of city officials. The recent action with the City Manager's contract. and excessive salary is downright scandalous The mayor should be ashamed of putting that burden on us poor taxpayers.

  2. Obviously this mayor (and commission) have no shame....they wilfully disregard their own rules and laws as well as their constituents' wishes. They blatently lie to us and sneak around to push their agenda; ie: fire department, city manager, charter school, etc. Yes, it is time to get new people in who will hopefully do better for us. As a long time resident I am saddened to see our little city become part of the "good ole boys network" - which includes women, of course.

  3. All I can say is WOW! The corruption that is going on in our little city is amazing. The mayor is best friends with the CM and gave him this sweetheart deal. The rest of the commissioners are just pawns for the mayor.

    I can wait for the next election so we can vote them out. I can't express how disappointed I am with the actions of the mayor and the city council.

    Thank you for keeping us informed. I hope you will consider running for Mayor.

  4. Stuart Bernstein MDJuly 28, 2013 at 8:16 PM

    This is an amazing story when you consider the current labor market.

  5. The Belle Isle Sun is providing this community a great service. We will see the results of an informed electorate in November.

  6. What are the chances we can get Commissioner Ready to run for Mayor? Since Bill Brooks has been Mayor I have seen no improvement in city services, we very rarely see a Belle Isle officer in our neighborhood, code violations are rampant and yet nothing is done. It is time to clean house! I have been a resident of Lake Conway East for over 20 years and I am ashamed of our government officials.

  7. I emailed 4 commissioners about this (not H. Ready) to express my displeasure and ask for answers. Not a one has responded. It is time for a change in the City Government of B.I.
    Everyone needs to make sure all their friends in B.I. are signed up for the Sun and receive this information.

  8. Did anyone really think Keith was working for free for two years? This after they changed the charter so they could hire him. Bill is going to do as Bill sees fit....bottom line. There was such a outcry you couldn't fit in the commission chambers because so many people showed up....Bill still got his way. What did the last City Manager make per year?


    1. We asked our commissioner about this unusually high salary and were informed that he is also assuming the job of planning and zoning, a position that paid $70,000 per year. This terminated position salary was then rolled in to the city manager salary with the additional responsibility.

      Rita Lucey

    2. I believe that is the justification put forth by Mayor Brooks and I am happy to have the opportunity to respond. I can assure you that the previous individual to have responsibility for planning and zoning in Belle Isle was Deborah Cole, a professional engineer with a Masters degree in city and regional planning. Her annual salary as of December 31, 2012, was $28,134. She was first employed by the city in 2011 according to Keith Severns in the Belle Isle Bulletin of October 2011. Her title was General Services Director. Before her tenure in the position, it was held by Steven Gillis, who was paid $71,377 in 2009 and $14,172 in 2008.

      Sue Nielsen

      In addition to these public records facts, the position of a city manager brings with it very broad responsibilities, including "any additional duties assigned by the city council or commission."

      All of this information and more can be obtained through public record requests and internet searches. Our commissioners seem to not know and not care much about what is really going on in our city government. This is most unfortunate for us, the citizens. I believe it is past time fpr a thorough housecleaning at city hall.

      Sue Nielsen

    3. Which really begs the questions:

      1. How can one person competently perform two full-time jobs?

      2. If those jobs are so easy that one person can competently perform both, how can they be worth $80,000 and $70,000 each (for a total of $150,000)?

  9. The last CM was the Chief of Police (in an acting capacity). This is in direct violation to an Attorney General opinion that states the Chief of Police can not act as the CM.

    I guess the laws, town rules and the will of the people they were elected to represent mean nothing to mayor brooks and this council (except Ready)!

  10. Great work Sue!
    We sent this article to some of our friends and one of them posted it on the "Community Facebook Page". We were told it's getting a lot of traffic.

    I agree we need a house cleaning at City Hall.

  11. I have seen a lot of improvement in our city over several years. Looks like some people have political aspirations. Thank you for pointing out the players.

  12. Does anyone know why Deborah Cole sued (and apparently won / settled) Belle Isle and Keith Severns this spring? Could it have to do with this salary issue?

  13. I was told the exact same thing by a commissioner.

    "We asked our commissioner about this unusually high salary and were informed that he is also assuming the job of planning and zoning, a position that paid $70,000 per year. This terminated position salary was then rolled in to the city manager salary with the additional responsibility."


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