PINELLAS PARK — City manager jobs are hard to get and harder to keep. The position requires organizational and political skills, financial acumen and a tough skin.
Don Lusk had all of those qualities. His focused demeanor helped him manage budgets, weigh in on taxes, and stay calm during contentious battles over annexation and sewer rights in Pinellas Park. He left for a Collier County manager's job after three years, then worked in several other cities before returning to the Tampa Bay area.
Mr. Lusk died Friday, as a result of prostate cancer. He was 66.
In 1981, he was one of 134 candidates to seek the Pinellas Park job, which paid $30,000 a year.
Mayor Cecil Bradbury thought Mr. Lusk, then the city manager of East Ridge, Tenn., didn't "have quite the experience we're looking for." A council member opined that Mr. Lusk "doesn't come anywhere near what this city needs."
Then the council's first choice insisted on a much higher starting salary, and the job fell to Mr. Lusk — who had compared the prospect of not getting it to "losing the Super Bowl."
Pinellas Park's population had nearly doubled over the previous 25 years to 35,000. Mr. Lusk presided over an aggressive annexation program, enticing landowners to join the city with the promise of slashed sewer rates. The program added 400 acres of mostly industrial land to the city, but also resulted in lawsuits against Largo and Pinellas County.
"Dad was an aggressive go-getter," said Patricia Rodes, his daughter. "It was, 'You're going to do it and do it now and because I said so. And that's how your city is going to get fixed.' "
Bradbury, who had doubted Mr. Lusk's qualifications, became his strongest supporter.
"Sometimes I've looked at a situation and thought somebody else might have been better or we should have done something else," said Bradbury. "Then as time went by, I've been proven to be wrong in my initial assessment."
Mr. Lusk served four years in the Navy and graduated from the University of Tennessee. His marriage to Catherine Studiale lasted 30 years, but the couple remained close friends after their divorce.
His last job, a town administrator at Redington Shores in 2004, lasted a year before the city decided it didn't need a chief administrator.
The Pinellas Park job, where he got his start, remained close to his heart, his family said, even though he thought the city still had some growing to do.
For example, he had criticized the city's farm zoning, which allowed residents of some areas to keep farm animals.
"In East Ridge (Tenn.), if we caught you with a goat in the limits anywhere except at the zoo, we arrested that goat," he told the Times the last week of his city manager's term in Pinellas Park. "And chickens, we cooked them."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.