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New manager's duties debated

Is the city manager too powerful?

Does his or her influence over the police chief give the city manager the power to fix traffic tickets or to force the chief to investigate commissioners?

Those were some of the questions Commissioner Tom Hardy asked at a commission meeting Wednesday night where he made several attempts to reduce the manager's power and to give city department chiefs more autonomy.

"I don't want the city manager being absolute lord and master," Hardy said.

Commissioners debated the issue well into the morning while they considered the process to hire a new manager, the possible adoption of a new set of personnel rules and changes to the city charter.

Indian Rocks Beach is accepting applications for a new manager until Oct. 30. The new manager would replace Jo Anne Townsend, who was fired. Townsend replaced Dorothy Cramer, who resigned under fire after 13 years in the position.

The proposed personnel rules, authored by Interim City Manager Norma Celentano, called for a personnel committee that would make hiring and firing decisions.

"What you've basically done is demote the city manager to a department head," Commissioner Connie Allen told Celentano. "Where do you find a supervisor going to his subordinate and saying, "Should I hire them? Should I fire them?'. . . I don't think this tracks with the charter at all."

Hardy argued for adoption of the new rules, saying, "In effect, the city commission has delegated its duties to the city manager."

But Allen said that if Hardy wanted to change the city-manager form of government in Indian Rocks Beach, then he needed to "have the guts to say, "I don't like it,' or drop the issue."

City commissioners came under fire from citizens who say the selection process for a new manager is taking too long.

Austin Campbell of the Can-Do Committee said members of his citizens action group think the decision is long overdue. "I think we have the right to expect you, the city commissioners, to get on with it," he said.

Campbell urged commissioners who want to change the city-manager form of government to make their case and start the process.

Later, Hardy said, "I'm not going to rush this up on the demand of a 25- to 30-member pressure group that comes to every meeting with a new demand."

Campbell then shouted to Hardy that he was "sick of you and your innuendos."

Hardy responded by asking, "Is your premise that we aren't doing our jobs?"

"Yes, my premise is that you're not doing your job," Campbell shouted.

Commissioners later decided to review the 78 applications they have received and to each list top 10 choices.

In other business, commissioners heard a report from a consultant about the process needed to clean a kerosene spill near the new City Hall addition. The spill has left contamination in the soil and groundwater, Bob Brown of Tampa Bay Engineering said.

Brown told commissioners they must spend $27,000 for a report on the contamination and an additional $270,000 during the next five years for a filter system to clean the groundwater, which Brown said now consists of 3 percent petroleum.

Although the city could receive 80 percent of the cost from state funds, several commissioners were concerned that the report and cleaning bills were too expensive. Commissioners tabled the vote until their next meeting.