Cleveland Heights City Council members said goodbye to former City Manager Bob Downey, but he was not there to hear their kind words.
Downey, who worked for the city for more than 30 years, submitted his resignation letter, dated April 12, to Mayor Ed Kelley, and wrote that his . He did not cite a reason and did not attend Monday night’s regular council meeting.
Kelley said he had no indication Downey, who retired in 2008 and was rehired, was planning to resign. He thanked him for his service to the city.
“I do want to thank Bob. I wish him and his family good health and happiness in the years to come,” Kelley said during the meeting. Later, he said, “I’m very confident that Bob will land on his feet.”
Council approved his resignation and a $75,000 payment as part of his terms of separation in lieu of payment for any accrued sick time or vacation time or severance pay, according to the ordinance. Members also appointed Vice City Manager and Community Services Director Susanna Niermann O’Neil as acting city manager.
Niermann O'Neil, who has been community services director since 1989 and vice city manager for the past four years, said she was looking forward to serving this role.
"The evolution of our community is in large part due to the leadership that Bob gave to us," she said.
Vice Mayor Dennis Wilcox thanked Downey, a Cleveland Heights resident, and also Niermann O’Neil for taking over.
“I know this is difficult transitioning, but there’s not anybody in Cleveland Heights who cares more about this city than you do,” Wilcox said, looking at Niermann O’Neil. “And I’m glad you agreed to accept this position."
Kelley said the city plans to hire a firm to conduct a national search for Downey’s replacement, and that it could take six to eight months.
He said it was a "difficult situation" during the meeting and explained later that the transition and finding a new city manager is challenging.
Former Cleveland Heights Mayor Alan Rapoport said he understood. He was mayor when Downey became city manager more than 20 years ago and attended Monday's meeting.
“A little mix of nostalgia … and empathy,” Rapoport said when asked why he attended. “I appreciate what’s involved when you have a change of city manager.”
He added that Cleveland Heights is only one of two cities in Cuyahoga County with a city manager form of government — the other is Bedford Heights.
“Because of (the city manager form of government), the importance of the contributions of Bob Downey to the city over the years can’t be overstated,” Wilcox said.
Councilwoman Bonnie Caplan said the city will miss him.
“This was not a nine-to-five guy,” she said. “He lives in Cleveland Heights, he cares about the community, and everything he did was because he cared about the community and wanted to make it better.”
Downey did not return calls made by Cleveland Heights Patch and did not respond via email.
Look for more from Monday's City Council meeting soon.