Planned budget cuts put high-level West Palm Beach official out of work

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The city is eliminating a highly paid administrative position, which will save nearly $150,000 a year but also forces long-time employee Neil Melick out of work.

Melick, assistant to the city administrator, was West Palm Beach's seventh-highest paid employee with a base salary of $144,000. He previously served as building director, but was moved to administration under former Mayor Lois Frankel who created the position for him.

"The city is trying to close a multi-million dollar budget gap and a lot of difficult decisions are being made," city spokesman Elliot Cohen said Thursday. "As part of that process, his position is not going to be in the new budget. He was notified earlier in the week and we are basically going to allow him to work another couple of weeks."

The city is facing a a budget gap of about $3 million for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Although the new budget year doesn't begin until Oct. 1, Cohen said the budget is "a fluid work in process as we continue to make the city as efficient as we can. As we find what we think are solutions to close the budget gap, some efficiencies will be implemented sooner than others."

Cohen said he doesn't know of plans to eliminate any other positions.

Melick, 57, worked for West Palm Beach for 17 years and said he isn't sure yet if he will retire or resign.

"I knew it was coming. I was just hoping there was something else we could do," said Melick, who added that he was surprised the position wasn't eliminated during severe budget cuts a couple of years ago.

As assistant to the city administrator, Melick's job entailed handling special projects for the mayor, overseeing the city's TV station and working with the parks and recreation department, parking administration and clerks' office.

Melick said he will not pursue another position in the city.

"There's not much to do — no budget, no money," he said.

Melick worked his way from building inspector official to director of the building department, where he became a target of former commissioner and mayoral candidate Molly Douglas, who regularly complained that the department's permitting process was slow.

Frankel defended the speed of the permitting process, and while she replaced Melick as building director with Doug Wise, she created the new position for Melick.

Last year, the city was ordered in court to pay $121,000 and interest for illegally knocking down a historic home in 2005 that Melick had ordered demolished when he was building director. While the city's Historic Preservation Division issued a "do not demolish" order, Melick overrode that decision.

Melick was praised for his long service to the city by Cohen, who said Melick "served the city and its residents well and obviously while all the details have not been worked out, we're saddened by the circumstances that we're in."

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