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Tarpon Springs must be careful in search for city manager

At this writing, Tarpon Springs City Manager Ellen Posivach and the City Commission still are negotiating how, and at what cost to taxpayers, Posivach will leave her job. Though the commission voted 3-2 last week to accept her resignation, a proposed five-page "Retirement and Resignation Agreement" between Posi­vach and the city has not yet been signed.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Posivach is done, so at their Tuesday meeting, commissioners need to put their split vote behind them and come together to decide how to find a new city manager.

It is important to start at Step 1. And Step 1, for this City Commission, should be to decide what they want in their next city manager.

Posivach, who was city manager for nine years, had friends and foes in City Hall. Many admired her technical skills, especially in the area of public works. Others disliked her personality, her lack of openness and her defensiveness when challenged. Recalling the things they liked and didn't like about their experience with Posivach is one way for commissioners to start building a list of requirements for their next manager.

Commissioners will want to make sure that the person they hire has a degree in public administration and experience as a local government manager or assistant manager. There likely has never been a more challenging time for Florida local governments than now, with money tight but the public's demand for services still high. This would be the wrong time for the city to hire anyone other than a professionally educated and experienced city manager.

Commissioners not only need to agree on the education, experience and personality traits they want in a manager, but also on their vision for the city and what kind of leader is needed in the city manager's office to achieve that vision. It needs to be a person with strong leadership skills, but also a collaborator who can work successfully with five bosses and a sometimes divided community.

Because the commission itself was divided on whether to oust Posivach, it will not be easy for commissioners to come together on this discussion. Some of them don't even like each other.

However, commissioners need to rise above their past petty disagreements and recognize that if they do their job well, the next city manager will still be serving long after their commission terms have expired. As the senior member of the commission, and the only one who has been through a city manager search in Tarpon, Mayor Beverley Billiris has the important job of making sure every commissioner is heard and that the discussions are both civil and productive.

Only after commissioners have discussed and agreed upon all these important matters will they be prepared to create advertisements for the job and decide whether to hire a search firm or use some other method to seek candidates. Yes, money is tight, but this is not the place to pinch pennies. Tarpon Springs could learn from the experience of Dunedin, which initially decided to save money by doing its own search and bungled the process. It was only after the split City Commission got back on track and brought in a professional headhunter that it got a good field of applicants, from which it drew talented and hard-working Rob DiSpirito.

Meanwhile, commissioners need to carefully review Posivach's separation agreement before signing it. They should ask their attorney whether the public interest is served by a proposed provision which states, "Posivach and City agree not to divulge, reveal or disseminate any information which may result in injury to the reputation of each other." Another questionable provision would give Posivach seven days after the effective date of the agreement to return official public documents she has at home — something that should have been done already.

The search for a new city manager isn't easy and it can take many months. With city budget season under way and many important decisions to be made, Tarpon Springs shouldn't drag its feet, but it also can't afford to skip any steps. Careful work done now will pay benefits in the future.

Tarpon Springs must be careful in search for city manager 05/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2008 2:08pm]
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