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Meeting focus is city manager role

The question of whether Port Richey should employ a city manager was answered emphatically by the guest speaker at a City Council workshop Wednesday night.

Pete Knowles, past president of the Florida City and County Management Association, touted the council-manager form of government as the best, most prevalent form in the country.

"Port Richey is in the position of asking (itself), "Can we have a manager or can't we?' " he said. "Let me assure you: You can."

The issue was raised when a majority of city residents voiced their approval of a city manager in a straw vote in April's general election. There would have to be a change in the city charter before a city manager could be hired.

Knowles gave a brief presentation on the topic and opened the discussion to questions from council members and the audience of about 30. He asked the questions people might have when considering a fundamental change.

"Why do we need a city manager?" he asked. He said it's because communities and their elected officials have become more adversarial. "In the late '40s, people liked government. They didn't like politics, but they liked government.

"Today, citizens don't like government or politics. . . .In the future, things here in Florida are going to become more complicated than they are now," Knowles said. A professional manager is the only way to overcome that, he said.

What sort of power will a manager have? While a manager must, by definition, have great authority, that authority comes with responsibility to the city council, Knowles said.

What kind of person should the council seek? Knowles said a good city manager is a good supervisor, motivator and leader and should be calm and unemotional, but approachable.

The question on many minds was, "What will it cost?" Knowles said that given the many factors in hiring a manager, a reasonable salary range would be between $38,000 and $42,000 per year.

The audience seemed impressed, if not entirely convinced. But council member William Wilson apparently had made up his mind.

"Mr. Knowles, will you take the job?" he asked afterward. "You seem qualified enough."

An amused Knowles declined, saying his wife would not be happy with his taking another job.