INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — The last candidate to be interviewed in the city's search for its next manager spent more than an hour answering the commission's questions and making a case for his experience, training and personality. By the end, the dynamic had shifted, and commissioners started pitching the city as a great place to live and work to the man they hope will be the city's next top staffer.
The change happened when Mayor R.B. Johnson asked Gregg Mims, 52, a former city administrator of Fairhope, Ala., when he could start on the job if he got it, and how long he could see himself staying in the position. Mims said he could start 30 days after the contract negotiations, and then mentioned three upcoming interviews.
Soon after Mims left the chamber, the commission agreed unanimously: If the background check comes back clean, and he would take the offer, the search is over. They asked staff members if the background check could be accelerated so as to get an offer to Mims as soon as possible.
As a hedge, they selected two other candidates, Belleair Assistant Town Manager Joseph "J.P." Murphy, 31, and Largo's Office of Management and Budget director Amy Davis, 43, to continue in the selection process if Mims does not get the job.
The commission primarily hopes the background and reference check on Mims will shed light on his departure from Fairhope, where his position of city administrator was eliminated in what he describes as a political battle between the mayor and city council.
Fairhope, a city of about 16,000, has a strong mayor form of government, where the mayor acts as the city's chief administrator. The City Council in 2009 created the position of city administrator to deny the mayor power, supporters of the mayor said. Mims was promoted from within city staff to the new position, and held it until the majority of the council was replaced in 2012. In October, the mayor and council eliminated the position.
"Elections happen," Mims said. "Different folks are elected to positions, and that's just the nature of the business. Nine times out of 10, it has nothing to do with the individual."
Mims discussed the change with Fairhope Mayor Timothy M. Kant for weeks, he said. "We felt it was best to move on and pursue other things."
Mims' application includes a letter of recommendation from Kant.
"It's par for the course," said Mark Durbin, the retired city manager assisting Indian Rocks Beach with its search. "Some managers are fortunate to have never been asked to leave. Some have been asked to leave once or twice. Some seem to get asked to leave in every position they've been in. … People understand now, particularly when a new commission comes in, they feel like they have to put their stamp on the city."
Prior to being promoted to city administrator, Mims was the general superintendent of Fairhope and before that, its planning director.
Mims started his career in 1983 as transportation planner in Hattiesburg, Miss. A year later he was in Mobile, Ala., where he started as an entry level planner and left in 1997 as the director of urban development. He returned to Hattiesburg as its chief administrator until 2001, when he became the chief operations officer of Columbus, Miss., until 2006.
Indian Rocks Beach would be a major change of pace for Mims, Commissioner Phil Hanna said. In Fairhope, Mims was responsible for more than 300 employees and a $50 million budget. Indian Rocks Beach has a $3 million budget and one-tenth the employees. In his last position, Mims earned $110,000. The most Indian Rocks Beach could offer is $105,000.
"It's kind of like going from flying the shuttle to driving a Conestoga wagon," Hanna said.
"I don't think that'd be an issue for me," Mims replied.
If it doesn't work out with Mims, the commission is confident in its second and third choices, Murphy and Davis. If the process continues, the commission will hold a second round of interviews and host meet-and-greet sessions with citizens.