NEW PORT RICHEY — A Wisconsin native with 25 years of government experience will take the reins as the new city manager of New Port Richey, City Council members voted Friday.
John Schneiger, 55, the deputy city manager of economic development in Eustis, was chosen from a pool of more than 200 applicants to succeed Tom O'Neill.
Details of his contract, including his start date and salary, will be decided during negotiations in the coming weeks. O'Neill's contract earned him $109,720 a year.
During a special half-hour session Friday, the council unanimously agreed on Schneiger as the best of three remaining finalists.
"I thought his demeanor was excellent. He was direct, to the point, non-evasive," Mayor Scott McPherson said. "He seems to be somebody not afraid of challenges."
Council members praised Schneiger's business acumen and his background in local politics, which has included stints as manager of Colorado cities Montrose, Fruita and Granby.
"His attitude toward spending city money — that you should spend it like it's your own money — that is really very refreshing," said council member Judy DeBella Thomas, who attended the meeting via speakerphone because she was sick. "That's what I believe we need to keep in mind."
Schneiger graduated with a master's in business administration from Colorado State University in 1989 and attended Harvard University's Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government in 2004, according to his resume.
Schneiger, who is single and has a 23-year-old son, Taylor, leases a home in the Lake County city of Eustis and plans to move to New Port Richey.
During an interview with the council earlier this month, Schneiger said his "management style is much more aggressive" than his at-times "mild-mannered" personality.
He told the Times on Friday that he would like to focus on continuing the downtown redevelopment and connecting with local residents. A monthly "Coffee and Donuts with the Manager" event he organized at Montrose City Hall, he said, could be a good fit here, too.
Schneiger was considered for the job of Port Richey city manager in 2005 but declined after touring the neighboring cities.
"Once you went across the water on (U.S.) 19, things started to look more orderly, a lot cleaner, a lot more organized, more prosperous," he told the council during his interview. "There seems to be a respect for the natural environment here."
Schneiger also interviewed in 1999 to be city manager of Madeira Beach. Though he didn't get the job, city commissioners said his references were so glowing that they wondered whether he "walks on water."
"He has impeccable references. Nobody said he had any shortcomings at all," Commissioner John Wolbert said in a Times article then. "He took a town that was on the ropes, virtually bankrupt, and turned it around."
That same year, the Rocky Mountain News chronicled what it called the "rebirth of Fruita" during Schneiger's reign as manager. Once a refinery town in the western Colorado high desert, the city blossomed into a hot spot for mountain bikers and tourists visiting the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway.
New Port Richey council members called the special session during Tuesday's council meeting after learning that the city's whittled-down list of six applicants had been cut in half.
Mark Rooney, former village manager of Wheeling, Ill., said he "had to move on" after the city's search took too long. Anthony Otte, a former city manager of Tavares, Leesburg and Lake Wales, accepted an executive director position in New Smyrna Beach. And Donald Crawford, a former manager of Boca Raton, said the long search and the lack of reimbursement for interviewees' travel expenses led him to question "how serious they are" in City Hall. He now works as the interim city manager for Owosso, Mich.
Of the three remaining applicants, Schneiger was the only one still employed. John McCue, who has worked in management offices in Wakulla, Leon and Dade counties, worked as Orange City manager until 2008. James Coleman, who has worked in city offices in Longwood, DeLand and Leesburg, last worked as city manager of Williston.
The city's last manager search ended in 2004 when Scott Miller was hired. Leaving three years later for a job in Kansas, Miller was replaced by O'Neill, who at the time served as public works director and who agreed to become manager during the transition.
In 2008, the city promoted O'Neill to the permanent manager position without an outside search. Last year, O'Neill announced he would need to retire because of his enrollment in a state retirement program.
O'Neill, who has worked with the city for 35 years, said it won't be easy to leave.
"I love this city. If I knew I was going to live forever, I'd stay," he said after Friday's vote to pick his successor. "I've almost felt, during this process, like I'm trying to find my wife a new husband."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Drew Harwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6244.