SEMINOLE — Frank Edmunds' announcement last week that he is retiring after almost 20 years as Seminole's city manager caught most people off guard.
As sudden as the decision seemed, Edmunds said it was the result of long thought and not prompted by turmoil in the city.
Edmunds said Monday that he has spent 45 years in local government in a variety of positions, both elected and appointed. Over time, he said, those experiences, even the good ones, can wear on a person. Edmunds, 63, said he tends "to internalize" things more than most and has found that as he gets older, his patience is wearing thin.
City managers, he said, "are constantly faced with challenges, issues."
"That does take its toll over the long term," said Edmunds, who is Seminole's first and only manager. "I think, for me, it's time."
City projects factored highly into his decision, he said. Some of them, like the new community center at the site of the old City Hall, will be complete, or almost so, when he leaves Jan. 16. Others, like the waterfront park on Park Boulevard opposite Lake Seminole, will be planned out so the council and his successor will have to just follow the steps. Others, like the development of the former Bay Pines Mobile Home Park, opposite the VA hospital, will be far enough along that ushering them to a conclusion will be straightforward.
Then there's Seminole Mall — probably the biggest potential project for the city and an important one for Pinellas County.
Edmunds predicted that redevelopment of the mall would not begin until January at the earliest and would take about three years. That would put the final stages in 2018. Edmunds said he simply wasn't prepared to remain until 2018 and he did not want to drop that in someone else's lap midstream.
"The redevelopment of that property will take a significant amount of city effort to see that the end product is something the city will be proud of," Edmunds said. "By transitioning now, whoever comes after me will be in a better position (to oversee the development)."
Edmunds may not have decided to retire because of uproar in the city, but he conceded that the strife influenced the timing of his decision. He had planned to meet one on one with council members this week to tell them of his decision to retire. Before he could meet with them, allegations by City Clerk Rose Benoit and council member Patricia Plantamura that a department head had threatened the council member's life surfaced. Plantamura also alleged that Mayor Leslie Waters and council member Bob Matthews had orally confronted her. She has asked for a deputy to stand by at council meetings for her protection. Plantamura, who has long criticized Edmunds, said she blamed his management style for creating a hostile work environment.
The department head, Mark Ely, denied making a threat, and a sheriff's investigation was closed and marked "solved, non-criminal." Edmunds branded the accusations "ridiculous."
But other council members were angered by the allegations. Matthews in particular, who served on the council that hired Edmunds, jumped to his defense. It appeared that there would be a confrontation between council members at last week's meeting. But Edmunds' announcement — a surprise to all except Waters and Matthews, who were told shortly before the meeting began — diverted attention and torpedoed any argument.
"I think I had just reached a point that I felt, for my own sanity, that I'd rather announce it at a meeting (rather than a one-on-one) basis," Edmunds said.
Despite the recent strife, Edmunds said he has been happy.
"To me, it's been an absolutely terrific career," he said. In fact, he's likely not hanging up his city manager hat. Edmunds said he'll try out retirement and if it's not all it's cracked up to be, or he gets bored, he'll likely consult on special projects for cities.
"If it's not the right time … maybe I'll look for something else," he said. "I'm going to keep my options open from here."
Until then, he said, he plans to improve his golf game. He also plans to use the experience he has gained reorganizing city governments.
"I get to reorganize my garage," he said.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes on Twitter.