Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

Should top city and county officials live in the communities they serve?

CLEARWATER — The rule for police chiefs, county administrators and other top government leaders tends to be a firm one: If you're going to work here, you need to live here.

But with rules come exceptions, and officials in Pinellas County are making some for what they say are the right hires.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is not making his new police chief Tony Holloway move to the city from Belleair, and Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne is not requiring Daniel Slaughter, who will be sworn in as chief of police on Thursday, to move to Clearwater from Trinity in Pasco County.

The latest example came Tuesday, when the Pinellas County Commission chose interim county administrator Mark Woodard for the permanent job. Woodard lives in his native Tampa with his wife, former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, and has said he doesn't want to move.

There is nothing in the county charter requiring the administrator to live in the county, but past county commissions have included a provision in their administrator's contract, as they did for Woodard's predecessor, Bob LaSala. Commissioners did not mention the residency issue Tuesday, but a majority have said Woodard's history with the county merits an exception.

"It's a non-issue to me," Commissioner Ken Welch said after the meeting. "For an outside person it would be, but for someone who has been a Pinellas County employee for more than a quarter century, his loyalty is well-proven."

Longtime service isn't the only reason for exceptions. Holloway spent about 25 years at the Clearwater Police Department — four of them as chief — before Kriseman made the surprise move to pick him over of four finalists.

Kriseman has said he doesn't see the need to force Holloway to move as long as his distance from the city doesn't affect his job performance, and there's no residency requirement in the city charter. That's a departure from Kriseman's predecessor Rick Baker, who made then-Chief Chuck Harmon move from Pinellas Park.

Holloway noted that he never lived in Clearwater but made the connections there he needed to do the job well.

"To live in a community doesn't mean you're a part of the community," he said in a recent interview. "You need to be in service in the community."

People in St. Petersburg seem to have accepted the mayor's decision, and Holloway's reason, without fuss. After the new chief's first news conference last month, many attendees said they didn't think Holloway living outside the city would cause problems.

"Look how many officers live in Pasco County," the Rev. Manuel Sykes, head of the local NAACP branch, told a reporter. "(There are) far too many officers who live way out for that to be a legitimate argument."

The only charter requirement in Clearwater is for the city manager position. City manager Bill Horne said Slaughter, currently a major in the department, will eventually move to, or closer to, the city.

Horne recently received a call from someone concerned that Slaughter "may not have the same level of interest" as a resident, but Horne said he is not worried.

"He's figured out how to give us the work performance that we need from him even though he lives in Trinity," he said.

Tampa's charter requires not only elected officials but department heads and administrators with authority over department heads to be residents of the city.

Currently, two top Tampa officials — chief financial officer Sonya Little and administrator of public works and utility services Mike Herr — are serving on an interim basis.

Little, who lives in unincorporated Hillsborough, says she has always planned to move into the city.

"As economic conditions continue to improve, it's becoming more feasible," Little said.

To Mayor Bob Buckhorn, her address matters less than her performance.

"We prefer competency over residency," Buckhorn said Tuesday in a statement. "It's far more important to me and to the people we serve to have the best talent we can find than to worry about the fact that she lives a few miles outside the city limits."

Hillsborough's County charter requires three top officials — the county administrator, county attorney and county auditor — to live in Hillsborough. They don't have to live in the county when hired, the charter states, but they must move into Hillsborough "within a reasonable amount of time." County Administrator Mike Merrill had to move from Clearwater because of this requirement.

"The reason you have those rules is so folks are sensitive to the day-to-day issues of the people they represent," said Hillsborough Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe.

Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long tends to agree.

"It is the highest level position in Pinellas County," Long said. "It seems like it stands to reason that you would want a county resident paying taxes."

She also said Woodard's residency is not a dealbreaker. She just wants to talk to him about the time commitment that comes with the job.

"There are a lot of things that happen early in the morning and late in the evening," she said. "I think that's how you keep your fingers on the pulse of the people."

That hasn't been a problem for Woodard, who joined the county in 1988 and whose home on Bayshore Boulevard is about five miles away from the Pinellas County line.

"I've spent more of my waking hours in the last 26 years in Pinellas than in Hillsborough," he said.

Times staff writers Richard Danielson, Will Hobson and Laura Morel contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes

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