Tarpon Springs interim City Manager Mark LeCouris volunteered last week to fill the job indefinitely if city commissioners want to postpone their planned national search for a new manager.
LeCouris told them this is a tough time to be looking for a new manager, while the city is grappling with budget problems and while plans for building a city water system are under way.
Keep me on for months if you want, LeCouris offered, and at the end you can evaluate me and decide whether I should be the permanent city manager.
LeCouris is right about one thing: Times are tough. That's the best reason we can think of for Tarpon Springs city commissioners to launch a search for the best city manager they can get.
LeCouris is the city's police chief. Police work is his specialty. He has never been a city manager, and he does not have a college degree in public administration, which most Pinellas cities want in a professional city manager.
After Tarpon Springs hired Ellen Posivach as city manager nine years ago, she wanted someone who could take over for her on the frequent occasions when she was away from City Hall. She turned to LeCouris, the police chief, and did it so regularly that LeCouris got a pay raise and a title as acting director of administrative services to add to his police chief title.
LeCouris, who was named the interim manager when Posivach resigned in May, feels that working in that administrative services role for so long gave him the opportunity to learn a lot about city management and to be involved in important city projects. However, LeCouris was not the city manager, and his work directing administrative services was performed under Posivach's direction. There is a big difference between being No. 2 and bearing the full-time responsibilities and public obligations of city manager.
LeCouris is well-known in Tarpon Springs, both because of his city jobs and because he is the son of Blaine LeCouris, who was police chief and later city manager of the city. He is a son of Tarpon Springs, and there are those in the community who want Mark LeCouris to be named city manager immediately. They find him the comfortable choice.
They also argue that a search for a city manager can be expensive and that the city saves money every month LeCouris does the job. But what's cheaper should not be a consideration in this all-important task.
The City Commission is scheduled to discuss LeCouris' offer at tonight's work session at 6:30 in City Hall. Here are a few important questions commissioners should ask themselves: During these challenging times, do they really want to keep at the head of city government a person who is trying out the job of city manager? Do they really want city government run by someone who never has been a city manager, or even had the title of assistant city manager?
Running a municipal government in Florida in these economic times takes all the experience and creativity the best city managers can muster. Tarpon Springs may be a small town, but it faces big challenges every day: budget shortfalls, a growing problem with homelessness, drug crime, building a new water system, finding ways to boost tourism.
Commissioners owe it to the community to hire a manager who is up to those challenges today and every day. They should hire a professional headhunter to conduct at least a statewide search — even better, a national search — for candidates who meet the commission's criteria. Then they should thoroughly research those candidates in an open process that includes public input.
LeCouris can be invited to apply. If he wins the job, the competitive process he participated in will have made him stronger and confirmed his right to the job. Neither LeCouris nor the city would benefit from him being the default choice for city manager.