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Madeira Beach manager choice sparks a tempest

MADEIRA BEACH — City commissioners may violate the city's charter if they hire Allen Godfrey as the next interim city manager.

At least that's what human resources director Deborah Cline said Wednesday in a blunt e-mail evaluating 20 applicants for the job.

"Mr. Allen Godfrey does not meet the minimum qualifications for this position," Cline wrote.

According to Cline's analysis, Godfrey does not have experience in Florida or elsewhere as a city manager or assistant city manager, a requirement in the city's published job description.

Godfrey does have more than 15 years of senior government management experience and holds a bachelor's degree in public administration.

On Friday, Mayor Travis Palladeno sharply disputed Cline's critique of Godfrey, describing her comments as "inexplicable." He defended Godfrey as "extremely" qualified.

The new city manager will also serve as public works director.

Godfrey is public works director in Belleair Beach, previously worked for six months as general services director for the Jefferson County Department of Health in Birmingham, Ala., and was public works director in Seminole for more than eight years.

Palladeno pointed out that when Madeira Beach hired Mike Bonfield as city manager in 1999, he did not have city manager experience either. Bonfield served the city for three years until he became city manager in St. Pete Beach, where he remains.

The controversy over Godfrey began two weeks ago when the commission decided, without public notice and without conducting any public interviews, to hire him for the interim position at a salary of $83,000.

Godfrey declined to allow the city to conduct a background check needed to complete the hiring process, but did tell the commission last week that he would complete the "paperwork" once he and the city agreed on a contract.

The commission now appears poised to approve a negotiated contract with Godfrey at a special meeting Tuesday.

"This is not the correct process for recruitment," Cline wrote. "We have never hired any employee or entered into a contract with a city manager without completing a full background check."

The city's new attorney, Tom Trask, also says Godfrey cannot be officially hired until the background check is completed.

Cline acknowledged she "has drawn the ire" of Palladeno and Commissioners Nancy Oakley and Robin Vander Velde.

In fact, last week Cline accused Vander Velde of creating a hostile work environment and put the city on notice that she may start legal action. Palladeno said, "With all due respect, the HR department does not get to choose the city manager. I would like to be able to pick my own boss, too."

Godfrey and Palladeno serve as officers in the Gulf Beach Masonic Lodge in Madeira Beach, and Godfrey is also listed as a "friend" on Palladeno's Facebook page.

Palladeno said Godfrey offers "strong leadership and accountability, intimate knowledge" of the area and "valuable contacts" that will benefit the city.

Cline insists that she does not care who the city hires, just that the commission's decision abide by "the charter, the city's personnel policies and procedures, and the intent of the Florida statutes."

Five of the 20 applicants for the city manager position meet all the city's minimum qualifications, according to Cline.

Godfrey does not list any military service on his application.

Two applicants who are experienced city managers and claimed veteran's preference in their applications were at Tuesday's commission workshop. They said they would be willing to serve as interim city manager, but were not inclined to wait eight months on the chance they might be picked for the permanent position.

The commission wants to replace Bill Mallory as interim city manager, Palladeno said, so he could focus on his main job as fire chief. Since March, Mallory has been performing both functions.

Palladeno and Oakley also repeatedly stress that previous searches for a new city manager took months.

"We have a very hectic time frame coming up," Oakley said last week. "This budget is not going to be the easiest in the world, with as many questions as came up last year."

Madeira Beach manager choice sparks a tempest 05/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 30, 2011 5:40pm]
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