MADEIRA BEACH — After a rocky two months, the new City Commission appeared to find its political and governing footing Wednesday.
After a workshop that lasted more than three hours, commissioners agreed on how to search for a city manager and finance director, hire professional help to prepare a new budget by July 1, and prioritize goals for the next two years.
In between, commissioners discussed marina redevelopment progress; using electronic radar speed signs to slow neighborhood traffic; how the Fire Department's improved rating is expected to reduce some residential and commercial insurance premiums; a "kinder, gentler approach" to code enforcement; and spending $90,000 to repair city-owned seawall caps.
"It was a long meeting, but it was worth every minute of it," Mayor Travis Palladeno said Friday. "I feel great. We are all getting on the same page. This is the way I want meetings to go."
Palladeno said he wanted to give the entire commission time to talk and work out its differences.
A major source of controversy at past meetings — who will become the city's next city manager — is no longer centered on one person, but rather a slate of at least five candidates.
Previously, two commissioners adamantly opposed a plan to hire Belleair Beach Public Works Director Allen Godfrey as the next city manager.
Godfrey withdrew his candidacy June 1 as controversy grew.
The commission plans to discuss potential candidates at a workshop before calling in top picks for interviews.
In the meantime, another potential sore spot — who will perform a background check on these candidates — appears to be resolved.
Instead of using the city's human resources manager, Deborah Cline, the commission agreed to hire a consultant.
Cline's initial background check on Godfrey led, in part, to the controversy over his appointment. She also initiated a hostile work environment claim last month against Commissioner Robin Vander Velde.
Interim City Manager Bill Mallory is expected to give the commission a list of outside firms and their proposed fees at Tuesday's 7 p.m. meeting.
He will also give the commission a list of his top picks to fill the finance director position. Under the city charter, the city manager hires the finance director with commission consent.
On Monday, Frederick Nutt, a retired city manager, county administrator and, most recently, top administrator for Hillsborough County's Public Works Department, will begin helping Mallory prepare the city's 2011-2012 budget.
That proposed budget must be completed by July 1 to enable the commission to decide what it will set as the maximum property tax rate for next year.
The deadline for setting the tentative millage rate is July 31. During budget deliberations, the commission can decide to lower that rate, but it cannot exceed it.
To get all of its tasks done, the commission has a couple of busy months planned.
Before Tuesday's meeting, the commission will meet for a special orientation workshop with its new attorney, Tom Trask, to discuss state laws relating to ethics, the open meeting Sunshine Law, and management and access to public records.
The preliminary budget will be presented during a 5 p.m. workshop July 6 and discussed in more depth at a special budget workshop on July 20, also beginning at 5 p.m.
Further budget workshops and final hearings have not been scheduled.
The commission also has regular voting meetings set for July 12 and 26 when it is expected to set the tentative millage rate.