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Jeannette taxpayers on hook even if city manager is let go

Renatta Signorini
| Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, 4:30 p.m.
Jeannette CIty Hall
John Howard | For Trib Total Media
Jeannette CIty Hall

A clarification of Jeannette's contract with its city manager was approved this week.

The change in language makes it clear that Michael Nestico will get a severance package if his contract is not renewed by city council when it expires in December. Nestico said he requested the clarification of “ambiguous language” and “to capture the intent of the original contract.”

“I think the climate in the community kind of has a forecast for those concerns,” he said.

Nestico was hired in June 2015 and makes $56,000 annually. His contract stated he would receive a severance if the contract was terminated without cause by council, but the additional language makes the same true in the event the agreement is not renewed.

The severance provision of the contract states that he would be entitled to four months of pay and benefits and an additional month of both for each year of full-time employment after the first year. The cap is six months worth of pay and benefits.

Not clarifying the language could have opened the city to litigation, said Scott Avolio, city solicitor.

“That's not nontypical in the municipal employee arena ... because they are somewhat volatile situations,” he said.

Mayor-elect Curtis Antoniak believes council and current Mayor Richard Jacobelli were misled by Avolio.

“I don't believe it was to clarify at all,” Antoniak said. “It's going to be going on Jeannette taxpayers ... if the city manager is let go.”

Antoniak believes there is a conflict of interest between Avolio, who has a law firm in Greensburg, and Nestico, who shared office space at Avolio's firm before becoming city manager.

“I smell a bad rat here,” Antoniak said.

The clarification was explained to council members in executive session as well as at Wednesday's public meeting, Avolio said. Antoniak has not attended council meetings after an argument between him and Jacobelli.

“The members of council exercised their independent right to vote on public matters,” Avolio said.

The severance provision existed in the previous contract with former manager Bruce Jamison, he said.

“I don't get any compensation from Michael Nestico in any capacity,” Avolio said.

Council members Robin Mozley and Ron Smith opposed the clarification. Mozley said she didn't see any benefit to taxpayers.

“I think it hamstrings the city for at least six months,” she said. “There's no reason to believe we would go in another direction.”

Jacobelli and councilmen Gabriel Homan and Chuck Highlands voted in favor.

“The city manager position, it could be a very short-lived position for a person because it's a very politically charged position,” Homan said. “It's not like all of a sudden we've come up with something to protect our buddy.”

Antoniak would not say whether he plans to renew Nestico's contract.

“I have to take a look at departments,” Antoniak said. “I will go in there in November, and I will talk to all departments and see what I feel and what the new council feels.”

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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