PINELLAS PARK — Doug Lewis, best known as this city's fire chief, has cleared a major hurdle on his quest to become the next city manager.
Lewis and Mike Haworth were appointed co-interim city managers about four months ago while City Manager Mike Gustafson provided training and evaluation. On Monday, Gustafson chose Lewis to continue as interim assistant city manager. Haworth will return to his position as second in charge of the Police Department. He would likely be the frontrunner for chief when Dorene Thomas retires in 2015.
Gustafson said the choice of Lewis as interim city manager should not be interpreted as a slam against Haworth, a "very, very talented" man. Instead, he said, the choice is more reflective of a personal style. Haworth can be intense at times, whereas Lewis has a more laid-back approach. That relaxed style, he said, is much more like the Pinellas Park council's daily attitude.
"It's just the chemistry of the council," Gustafson said.
Lewis, he said, also expressed his interest in the manager's job a couple of years before Gustafson said he would retire in early 2014. He had come to Gustafson for mentoring and advice.
Gustafson explained further in an email to city employees: "An essential quality of a successful city manager is the ability to monitor, assess, redirect and know when to stop a project. Doug Lewis and Michael Haworth have been interim assistant city managers for over four months. Both are capable and committed employees who have excelled in their individual areas. Both have the knowledge, talent and ability to execute the duties of city manager. For a city manager to have a successful career, there must be a great chemistry between the manager, mayor and council members."
Gustafson cautioned that the job might not ultimately go to Lewis. The council will make the decision.
"I'm excited," Lewis said. "It was wonderful being able to come back to my hometown to serve as fire chief and especially good to have a chance to serve in a higher capacity.''
The expected retirement of long-term appointed officials comes during difficult times for the city. Not only is Pinellas Park grappling with financial and other hardships, it's facing potential major changes in funding from the county for operations ranging from emergency medical services to the library.
Less than a month ago, Pinellas Park officials were blindsided by a county decision to eliminate about $540,000 a year in EMS funding that was used for Fire Station 37 on Bryan Dairy Road.
EMS funding is expected to continue being a bone of contention between the city and county as Pinellas seeks to cut costs.
Lewis, 57, is a native of New York whose family moved to Pinellas Park in the mid 1950s. He attended what was then St. Petersburg Junior College from 1980 to 1996 for continuing education courses in fire science. He received a bachelor's degree in 2000 in public leadership and organizational studies from Eckerd College. He received certification as a public manager from Florida State University in 2004.
Lewis worked for the St. Petersburg fire department from 1975 to 2002, retiring as the rescue division chief before becoming the Polk County fire chief. He served for eight years in the Coast Guard Reserve.
Since becoming Pinellas Park's fire chief in 2004, Lewis has served as president of the Pinellas County Fire Chiefs Association and in a myriad of other leadership positions.
He lives in Kenneth City, is married and has two children. As fire chief, Lewis earned about $115,276 a year. As co-interim assistant city manager, he earns about $121,040.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at email@example.com.