NEW PORT RICHEY — Vision. Faith. Tenacity.
These are the three words Debbie Manns uses to explain her belief that she will succeed as New Port Richey's new city manager.
Her vision is to lead a staff that never settles for mediocrity yet has fun on the job; to be customer-service driven and team players.
The faith part came in for Manns, 51, during interviews with the City Council. Manns said some council members called people she knew during her 26 years in public service in Michigan and Ohio whom she didn't even put down as references.
"I really appreciated that. It let me know they were serious about me as a candidate," Manns said.
It's going to take tenacity to succeed as well. Manns said she is well aware that some will view her as an outsider. But that's nothing new in her career. When she began life in public service, women in high-ranking positions were few and far between, she said.
Not that it stopped her.
Said her former boss in Michigan: "She just had city manager written all over her."
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John Zech, then assistant city manager of Wayne, Mich., saw something in Manns when she applied to work in the city's community development department.
"She was coming out of her undergraduate work and had put herself through school working in the restaurant business," Zech said. "To me her practical experience and her education is what stood out."
Manns did so well that when Zech was later named Wayne's city manager, he made her director of the community development department. As Manns rose through the ranks, she often found herself the only woman in the room during meetings. It was uncomfortable, she said, but with Zech's encouragement, she plowed through.
After several years, Zech gave Manns some fateful advice that bigger things were within reach.
"He said, 'you're capable of flying on your own.' It meant a lot to me," Manns said.
Recently, sitting in her new office at New Port Richey City Hall, Manns said her first two weeks have been educational. She has held several meetings with department heads, council members, and other local government leaders.
She plans to make the rounds to local businesses to introduce herself.
"I think she has done an excellent job of meeting with key people in the community," council member Bill Phillips said. "It's refreshing, very refreshing."
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As the council vetted her this spring, Manns said she was also doing her homework on the city. As a job candidate she toured city hall and talked with department directors. She liked what she saw.
Then came her apprehension over serving a five-member city council, as opposed to the seven-member boards she was used to in her past jobs as city manager in Southgate and Monroe, Mich.
Manns knows a city manager position can often turn political. She's made no secret that she was fired from the Southgate job following a dispute with the mayor, who demanded she fire a police chief who Manns thought was doing an exceptional job. Manns refused and lost her job.
In contemplating her fate being in the hands of three-person majority on New Port Richey's council, Manns joked that on a bad day she could make three people mad over lunch. But in seriousness, she added, discussions with council members about their visions for the city have been productive.
Mayor Rob Marlowe agreed that communication has already been good.
"I've got a really good handle on where she is coming from," he said.
Manns plans to live in the city and is hoping for regular visits from her two children who are both in college. She is still settling into the work routine but has already laid out one simple rule: no 8 a.m. meetings.
"I think people need time to think about the best way to use the day ahead of them," she said. "I hate 8 o'clock meetings, hate them."