INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — City commissioners chose seven candidates representing a variety of experiences, specialties and backgrounds to advance in the search for the next city manager.
"They had an outstanding group of candidates," said Mark Durbin, a retired city manager who now helps local governments find their managerial matches. Of the 10 searches in which he has assisted, Durbin said the process in Indian Rocks Beach has been one of the easiest.
The city received 60 applicants for the position vacated by Chuck Coward on May 31 after four years as the city's chief administrator. A screening committee composed of Coward and two members of the Florida City and County Management Association's Range Rider program recommended 11 applicants for review by the commission, which narrowed that field to six.
During the May 28 meeting, the commission added Danny Taylor, planning and zoning director, to the list as a professional courtesy, commission members said.
Candidates will be interviewed June 18 starting at 9 a.m. for one hour each at City Hall.
"I was real impressed with the commissioners," Durbin said. "They seem to work well together. They seem to genuinely like each other, which is important. They disagreed, but they made their disagreements agreeable."
The next manager will be the seventh since Mayor R.B. Johnson was elected to the commission in 2000. He is looking for a manager with city management experience, someone with the ability to push back against the commission without being inflammatory. "I don't want a candidate that needs training wheels," he said.
In contrast, Commissioner Joanne "Cookie" Kennedy said she sees this as a chance to bring in a first-time manager to foster new ideas. "I think it'd be nice to get someone fresh and new," Kennedy said at a previous meeting.
Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin preferred a larger group to interview, saying every applicant looks good on their applications. "When I can look them in the eye, then I'll decide," she said.
Coward recommended commissioners take the scale of applicants' previous jobs into account. Indian Rocks Beach doesn't manage a fire department and contracts its police services from the county, and has a yearly budget of around $3 million. "That's a fairly limited scale," he said.
Coward recommended the next manager have strong project management skills because of the city's full slate of ongoing and upcoming capital projects; public works experience; and direct personnel management skills. "There's not much length between the top and the bottom" in a city the size of Indian Rocks Beach, he said, which operates with 30 full-time and three part-time employees.
Durbin and Coward also told commissioners they aren't just interviewing candidates, but are being interviewed in turn. As the list tightens, top applicants gain bargaining power, which could lead to a higher salary. Coward called each of the 11 candidates and was told by each they were content with a salary between $95,000 and $105,000, significantly less than what some of the candidates earn or have earned in the past.
Commissioners passed on one of the 11 applicants because in the conversation with Coward, he asked mostly about other forms of compensation in addition to salary.
"Some people were out there smoking the drapes," said Commissioner Phil Hanna at some candidates' salary requirements, though commissioners agreed that the next manager might be willing to take a pay cut to live in "one of the sweetest towns on the planet," as Commissioner Jim Labadie said.
"There is no such thing as a perfect candidate," Coward told the commission, but a new manager could allow for changes in the government's structure to suit the manager's strengths. For example, a manager with strong public works experience — the city's largest department with two-thirds of its workforce — could allow for the next manager to double as the public works director, especially in light of the upcoming retirement of current director Dean Scharmen.
To cover the manager's responsibilities during the search, Scharman will manage ongoing capital projects and the contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Finance director Dan Carpenter will handle personnel issues, the lawsuit against BP and other issues inside City Hall. For the extra duties, the men will be paid an additional $1,000 per month until the next manager or interim manager is hired.
Durbin, who was Kissimmee's city manager for 23 years, will continue to assist the commission as it continues to narrow the field.