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Shores town manager steps down due to health problems

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of March 4, 2021)
Photo: Indian River Shores Town Manager Joe Griffin.

Indian River Shores Town Manager Joe Griffin has resigned due to chronic health issues, not related to COVID-19, and Town Treasurer Heather Christmas will serve in the interim while the Shores Town Council conducts a search for a permanent replacement.

Griffin, 75, was hired in January 2019 at a $140,000 annual salary seven months after retiring from his Sebastian city manager position and moving to South Carolina.

Recently he has been out of the office for health reasons and Christmas has been handling day-to-day operations in consultation with Griffin by phone and email. That arrangement will continue, as Griffin has agreed to stay on in an advisory capacity, and to help find qualified candidates for the council to consider for the permanent job.

Christmas, who attained her CPA designation in 2009, was hired as town treasurer in 2012.

As the town moves into budget season for the 2021-22 fiscal year, she would have been a key player in town business over the next six months, even if she were not serving as interim town manager.

Budgeting for nearly $8 million in town operations is one of the council’s and staff’s major annual tasks, and former vice mayor Bob Auwaerter said he thinks Christmas is more than qualified to take on extra responsibility.

“I have an enormous amount of respect for Heather,” Auwaerter said, adding that she has comprehensive knowledge of government accounting standards and practices, which he noted are “much more arcane than in the private sector.”

Auwaerter said Christmas adeptly handles what he called “complex calculations” regarding the town’s retiree, pension and health insurance liabilities, and that she is a great resource and a valuable member of the town’s leadership team.

Prior to Griffin being hired, Auwaerter proposed promoting Christmas to assistant town manager, carving out a position for her to work in concert with then-manager Robbie Stabe.

“I did that to keep her from pursuing other opportunities. It’s important for the town to have someone on board with Heather’s abilities,” Auwaerter said.

“The town’s going to fare just fine,” he said about the interim period.

Griffin did not tender a formal resignation letter. A consulting agreement was discussed but nothing formal has been agreed to yet. Town council members last week discussed additional compensation for Christmas in recognition of her new duties, but according to Michelle Pallo-Darnell, assistant to the town clerk, nothing concrete had been agreed upon as of Monday.