Zephyrhills City Council members shouldn't go through the motions of advertising a vacancy in the city manager's office if they're satisfied with the interim — former City Manager Steve Spina.
Last week, Spina said he is interested in remaining at City Hall and plans to apply for the permanent job. It's a familiar role. Spina served as city manager for 15 years before leaving in 2011 to teach at the University of South Florida. He agreed to serve as interim after his successor, Jim Drumm, departed in the spring after falling out of favor with a council majority.
Spina, 60, would bring stability, experience, knowledge of the city's pending issues and finances, strong ethics and a management style with which the council already is familiar. Rather than jumping on Spina's interest, some council members said the city still should advertise the opening and seek outside candidates.
It's a mistake. The suggested approach likely will do little more than waste time and resources to attract a limited number of candidates because of Spina's presence in the application pool. Council members would be wise to study local governments' recent history in finding top administrators:
• In New Port Richey, the city manager's position sat vacant for nearly 18 months forcing Susan Dillinger to pull double duty as library director and interim city manager. The council abandoned two job searches in 2013 because members were unhappy with the quality of the applicants. The frustration was best summed up in September by Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips when he was asked to whittle a short list of seven candidates to three finalists. "I couldn't get to two,'' Phillips said. The council finally hired Debbie L. Manns of Ohio in April after increasing the advertised salary to attract out-of-state candidates during a third search.
• Some Pasco County commissioners indicated they were underwhelmed with the applicants to replace retiring County Administrator John Gallagher in 2013, in part because of the presence of a strong internal candidate, Michele Baker, who served as interim. The board eventually hired Baker permanently after the initial choice, produced by a national search costing $24,000, declined the county's offer.
• In Port Richey, the council hired retired New Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill in December 2011. It had initially considered, but ultimately declined, to retain him as an interim when the job became vacant nine months earlier. The city received more than 100 applications, but O'Neill was the only person to receive a final interview.
With a strong, experienced manager ready to serve, Zephyrhills should avoid repeating the drawn-out and messy processes that other local governments have endured. Zephyrhills Council member Lance Smith said he favors offering the job to Spina now. It is smart thinking and the rest of the council should follow Smith's lead to retain a high-quality administrator.