INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — His first month or so as city manager has been about understanding the city's personnel, processes and the public, Gregg Mims said, with an eye toward doing the simple services well and efficiently so the complex slate of capital projects becomes possible.
This month, the City Commission will approve the city's first budget since 2007 to show an increase in property values. The city still will need to rely on transfers from the reserves. If property values continue to increase at a conservative rate, the city will be back in the natural black within three years with about half its current reserve balance intact, finance director Dan Carpenter said.
But the reliance on reserves, especially in the face of an ambitious list of large capital improvement projects, doesn't sit well with Mims, who thinks the gap might be lessened by improving the basic processes that make the city's government operate.
To add to a busy first month, Mims and his wife, Michelle, an accountant for the town of Gulf Shores, Ala., are eager to find her a job in the area so they can reunite. The couple, with three adult sons and an adult daughter, are also expecting their first grandchild within weeks.
The Tampa Bay Times sat down with Mims to discuss his first impressions of the city, its government and people, and to get a sense of how he will advise the elected officials and run the city's daily operations.
What are your early goals?
We're looking at efficiencies. Customer services is a real big thing for me, and when people come into the front counter and want a business license or a permit, I want to make sure we have that set up to be as customer-friendly as possible.
Part of that would be cutting unnecessary red tape. The city has ordinances and rules and procedures but through the years cities will add this form or add this piece of paper and by the time you've done that for 10 years, you've got 40 pieces of paper for something. So I've been working with the staff to remove red tape, and that also saves money.
What's an example?
I want to give some flexibility to the staff on administrating ordinances. In other words, if you came in and the setback requirement was 10 feet and you were at 9 feet 6 inches, try to do some commonsense things, so we don't have to put the citizen through the expense, time, and effort, plus our city's time and effort to do minor things.
Indian Rocks Beach is somewhat unique in that a city of this size operates its own garbage collection. Would contracting that service be a possibility?
I wouldn't rule that out in the future as far as looking at additional things but I can tell you right now the elected officials and the public, which are our customers, are really pleased with the service they get.
You've worked in cities much larger than Indian Rocks Beach and have had as many as 700 employees. What's it like to adjust to a city with 30 full-time employees?
It's really pleasant! (laughs)
I'll tell you though, whether it's a 30-person operation or a 700-person operation, a lot of the issues are the same. If you got 100 city managers to sit down at a table they'd bring up the same general kind of issues: money, personnel — personnel can take a lot of time — issues with our customers, which is the public. But for me it doesn't really make a difference.
You've leased a home in the city and have said you want to buy something eventually. The commission said this was brave, but it earned you a lot of points when you said this during the interview. Why is it important?
From what I've seen through the years I think it's important to set the example. And there are some negatives to it, of course, people might show up when they figure out who I am and where I live and want to have a little chat about the latest topic. I always think of that as part of the job.
That's also why I'm reaching out to people on the street and go into every business in Indian Rocks Beach. If somebody frequently complains, that's the first person I want to talk to. A lot of times there's usually something behind that. There's something they don't like or they need, and that's another benefit of living in the community, to get to know people professionally and personally. I live here, I'm going to spend my money here, I'm going to sit on the beach and walk my dog and go out on the boat. That gives me a better 360-degree view of the community.