PORT RICHEY — A familiar face is set to take the reins as city manager.
The City Council reached unanimous consensus Tuesday evening to hire former New Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill, with the hope of him beginning to work by Jan. 1.
O'Neill, 58, learned he had gotten the job while appearing for a final interview at Port Richey City Hall. The only other finalist, former Williston city manager James F. Coleman, dropped out of the running.
The city will make a formal offer to O'Neill in the coming days, and the council will have a special meeting Dec. 8 to vote on hiring him, said acting City Clerk Tammy Schuck. O'Neill has asked for a yearly salary of $80,000. He is also expected to get three weeks of vacation time.
O'Neill said he has been ready to get back to work since his 2009 retirement from New Port Richey, where he worked his way up over three decades, eventually serving as public works director and later city manager.
"I think it's a good fit for me, and I think it's a good fit for them," O'Neill said of his new job. "They are doing a lot of things I am interested in and I look forward to getting to work."
His path to being selected as city manager included months of wrangling among council members over whether to hire him on an interim basis for the same spot.
After the council fired previous city manager Ellen Posivach in February, Mayor Richard Rober proposed hiring O'Neill on an interim basis. But after much debate, the council opted to keep Police Chief Dave Brown as acting city manager while the officials searched for a permanent replacement.
Port Richey received more than 100 applications. Vice Mayor Bill Colombo called the search "exhaustive," and referred to O'Neill as the "last man standing."
"You were always there, and the fact that you are still here is not a surprise. If it is a surprise, it's a pleasant one," Colombo said.
Council member Nancy Britton said the council had "jerked this man's chain for far too long" during the debate over using O'Neill on an interim basis. After the interview, she said she wished O'Neill had been brought in months ago.
"I think a lot of things went on the back burner that would not have if we had his experience in here sooner," she said.
But Colombo said the process worked: The council wanted to avoid any perception that because O'Neill was city manager on an interim basis he had an inside track to the permanent job.
Britton said she was pleased the city was finally hiring him for the post.
"There are a lot of people who back you in the community," she told O'Neill.