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Field of manager hopefuls narrows

After a round of interviews, City Council members Wednesday narrowed a list of city manager candidates to three.

The top candidates, in order of ranking: C. Ray Jackson, Polk County administrator; Thomas D. Dalton, city manager in Little Rock, Ark.; and Norman W. Hickey, chief administrative officer for San Diego County, Calif.

Council members chose the three from a slate of seven candidates, each of whom were interviewed for about an hour Tuesday or Wednesday. About 120 people applied for the position, which became available when Robert Obering resigned in September after a grand jury issued a scathing report on city management.

The city will invite the three back for a second round of interviews March 10. Council members said, they hope to come to a consensus the next day on the person to whom they will offer the job. They hope to pay less than $100,000.

Jackson told council members his strengths are that he is a good consensus builder, a fiscal conservative and that he considers customer service paramount. He said he was very enthusiastic about the possibility of getting the job.

"I like St. Petersburg," Jackson said. "I would love to live and work here."

Dalton, who was interviewed Tuesday, also told council members he was a consensus builder. In answering questions about economic development, he said he has learned that while development is important, cities benefit from incremental development rather than grand plans.

Hickey, interviewed Wednesday, acknowledged that coming to St. Petersburg would be a step down from his position in San Diego County, which has a population of 2.5-million and an operating budget of $1.8-billion. St. Petersburg has 240,000 people and an operating budget of $120-million.

But he said he has spent much of his professional life in Florida and likes the state. He also said he believed that at 64, it would be his last job before retirement.

Hickey said he thought he would want to work three to five more years before retiring.

"This is an opportunity for me to come back to Florida, quite candidly," Hickey said.

Hickey, who was Hillsborough County administrator from 1981 to 1986, plans to interview in Miami Beach on March 2 for the top city administration job, said Norm Roberts, a consultant who is helping council choose a manager.

The four candidates who were eliminated from consideration Wednesday are: C. Scott Johnson, executive director of Museum Center at Union Terminal in Cincinnati; Herbert J. Bailey, assistant city manager in Miami; Thomas R. Hoover, city manager in Toledo, Ohio; and Steve Garman, managing partner of a financing corporation called Government Credit Corp. in Pensacola.