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Tarpon Springs wavers on city manager search

TARPON SPRINGS — Mayor Beverley Billiris was seeking a consensus from her board Tuesday night on how to proceed with the search for a new city manager.

She didn't get it.

City commissioners were all over the map in a discussion about whether to let interim City Manager Mark LeCouris stay in the job indefinitely or if they should immediately launch a nationwide search for a new manager.

At last week's commission meeting, LeCouris offered to remain interim city manager for a few months or longer while the city grapples with the possibility of budget cuts and works on major projects that are heading into the development phase.

LeCouris said he has gained the skills necessary to carry the city forward during his 8 1/2 years as the city's acting administrative services director.

But Billiris said she wanted to see what other applicants could bring to the city before making a decision.

"Mark is what I call our comfort zone. The staff likes him, the city likes him, we all like him," Billiris said. "But I personally feel we need to be looking outside our comfort zone to go forward."

Billiris said she supports the idea of LeCouris applying for the position, but is concerned that he lacks a degree in public administration.

"If you do decide to hire Mark at the end of the day, we can at least say he competed against others and he was the best choice," she said.

City Commissioner Susan Slattery said LeCouris doesn't need a degree to prove he's a good manager.

"He's had hands-on experience… and sometimes that's the best experience you can have," she said.

LeCouris, Tarpon's police chief since 1993, has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of South Florida. Tapped by former City Manager Ellen Posivach for the administrative services post, he frequently served as acting city manager in her absence.

Since Posivach's departure two months ago, LeCouris has won praise from commissioners for keeping them informed and responding quickly to residents' concerns.

Commissioner Robin Saenger said she wrestled with the decision but supports opening a national search that could include LeCouris if he wished.

"This is, as a commission, maybe the most important decision we'll make in regard to our city," she said.

Commissioner Chris Alahouzos said he thought it was a good idea to give LeCouris more time to prove himself before starting a search process. Commissioner Peter Dalacos said he wanted to see bids from search firms before making a decision.

Nine proposals from search firms have been received, said city spokeswoman Judy Staley.

Staff members will review them, then meet in early July to narrow it down to the top three. They'll present those findings to the commission at a future meeting, possibly later in July or August.

LeCouris was absent from Tuesday's meeting because he's attending a law enforcement conference in Palm Beach Gardens.

Reached by phone Tuesday night, LeCouris said he was agreeable to whatever the commission decides. LeCouris said he wasn't suggesting commissioners forgo a search altogether; rather that they postpone it while the city prepares next year's budget, a process that promises to be difficult with declining property tax revenue.

"I feel I have the capabilities to lead the city through those hard times," he said.

LeCouris has said postponing a search would save the city about $13,000 a month in payroll and benefits. LeCouris, who does not receive extra salary as interim manager and doesn't receive pension contributions because he's enrolled in the city's deferred retirement option plan, makes $112,000 annually. At the time of her departure, Posivach made $126,000 a year and received $27,863 a year in pension contributions.

Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or farlow@sptimes.com

Tarpon Springs wavers on city manager search 06/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 8:30pm]
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