MADEIRA BEACH — The City Commission picked its top five candidates for the vacant city manager position Monday, as well as three others who met Florida’s veteran’s preference law.
Among the finalists is Shane Crawford, who originally created the opening last spring when he resigned to avoid being fired. He was replaced in October by Fire Chief Derryl O’Neal, who resigned less than two weeks later and went back to his post as fire chief.
The commissioners plan to interview them privately over the next few weeks and are giving the three veterans the choice of a personal or telephone interview.
They will discuss their findings during a workshop on Jan. 23.
It was not clear how or when they will pick their favorite candidate and offer him the job. No official action can be taken during a workshop meeting.
In the past, here and in other cities, initial city manager finalists were narrowed to two or three top candidates who then were interviewed during a public meeting and given a chance to meet residents at a social gathering.
City Clerk Clara VanBlargan said Tuesday that she suggested such a process, but has yet to receive direction from the commissioners.
When asked about the selection process Tuesday, Mayor Maggi Black at first said the commission would "hold a duly noticed public meeting to discuss the candidates, take public comments and select a city manager."
She later said the commission is "still formalizing the process for our interviews for our new city manager. Once the field is narrowed we will decide the next steps".
The city’s human resources department plans to conduct full background checks on each of the candidates before they are interviewed.
Here are the top five finalists (and the number of commissioners who picked them):
• Jonathan Evans (4), current Riviera Beach city manager, former Sarasota County assistant county administrator, Haines City city manager, and Largo assistant city manager.
• Timothy Bennett (3), Madison city manager.
• Lyndon Bonner (2), Brooksville interim city manager.
• Joseph Helfenberger (2), former St. Cloud city manager.
• Crawford (2), former Madeira Beach city manager for the past six years.
The three candidates who invoked the veterans preference law, which requires governments in the state to give preference to certain categories of veterans:
• Bryan King, a safety/training officer in the St. Petersburg water department.
• John Murphy, former city manager for Hobbs, N.M.
• John Schempf, former city manager for Colfax, Calif.
Although the city’s labor attorney told the commission is must interview the three, it appears city manager candidates are exempt from the law.
According to a report issued in August by the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, "City managers, County managers, management and policymaking positions of political subdivisions of the state are not eligible for preference in appointment and retention."
Tuesday, city officials were trying to clarify the impact of the law on their search.
As for the top five picks, Evans is the clear favorite, picked by all but Commissioner Terry Lister, who also passed on the second choice, Bennett.
Crawford, who resigned last spring to avoid being fired, got votes from Lister and Commissioner Nancy Hodges who both will be up for election this spring, while the other finalists got votes from a varying mix of commissioners.
During a brief commission discussion, Commissioner John Douthirt accused Crawford of being "violent" and threatening to "kick my butt."
Crawford denied using those words but confirmed they had an argument that Crawford said started when Douthirt insulted his wife, the city’s former clerk.
Crawford said he is "honored" to be among the finalists, but is uncertain he wants to meet in private with either Douthirt or Oakley.
The two commissioners are currently the target of a recall effort that could lead to a citywide election that could remove them from office.