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St. Pete Beach city clerk search narrows to five

(ran Beach edition)

The City Commission has chosen five finalists for city clerk, and the front-runner is Pamala Prell, the deputy city clerk who has managed the office for more than a year.

Mayor Ron McKenney and Commissioner Ward Friszolowski are the staunchest Prell supporters.

"I look at what Pam Prell has done for the city and she still sits in limbo," McKenney said last week. "She has earned more than just sitting here month after month."

Commissioner John Phillips Jr. said he ranked Prell first because he knows her and hasn't yet talked to the other candidates for the job.

Prell, 39, makes $38,903 a year as acting city clerk. She has worked for the city 13 years and became a certified municipal clerk in that time.

The other choices, ranked in the order of the commission's preferences, are:

David Linger, the city clerk of Parker City for the past 10 years, has many duties, including preparing the city budget, directing an emergency response in a disaster and representing the city in union negotiations. The Panama City resident also served in the Air Force for 20 years as a manager in accounting and finance. Linger was the top choice of Commissioners John Bailey and Jim Myers.

Suzanne Kruse has been the city clerk in Boynton Beach since 1990, moving up the ranks from a recording secretary when she was hired in 1973. She has advanced training as a certified city clerk and currently supervises a staff of five.

Theresa McMaster has served as Lake Wales city clerk since 1995. She is a certified municipal clerk and is working on a degree in public administration.

Anita Manore, who has served as clerk and administrator of the township of Long Hill in New Jersey since 1987, is the only candidate to be considered from outside Florida. Manore has a bachelor's degree in business administration and is a registered municipal clerk in her state.

McKenney favors trimming the budget in the clerk's office, which is responsible for maintaining all the city's records and handling thousands of requests yearly for information.

He said the city should promote Prell and not fill two full-time staff positions that have been vacant for a year.

Prell was chosen by fellow employees this year to receive the city's distinguished service award after she ran elections and managed the clerk's office through political turmoil.

Numerous residents have urged her promotion.

Like Friszolowski, who called for former City Clerk Jane Ellsworth's resignation a year ago, Prell was mired in the controversies surrounding the former clerk.

After Ellsworth proposed an ordinance setting guidelines over the management of city records in 1996, some commissioners began pushing again to place the clerk under the supervision of former City Manager Danny Walker.

Ellsworth then alleged Walker had sexually harassed her. Both Ellsworth and Walker resigned last year.

Recently, however, some residents who were Ellsworth supporters have been calling attention to Prell's past disputes with her boss.

Mimi Gewanter recently presented commissioners with a packet of information detailing Ellsworth's past complaints about Prell, including insubordination.

"The city needs the best city clerk they can get," Gewanter said, explaining her actions.

In evaluating Prell in 1996, Ellsworth wrote that Prell misplaced documents, ordered supplies but didn't pay bills in a timely manner, and behaved unprofessionally.

Prell accused Ellsworth of retaliating against her for not backing up Ellsworth's claims of harassment at City Hall.

An independent report by a law firm later found a pervasive atmosphere of sexual innuendo existed.

The two women had a good working relationship until about 1995, according to evaluations in Prell's personnel file.

That year, they clashed after the clerk's office got a telephone call from a man who wanted former Mayor Mike Horan to leave his sister alone. Prell called Horan, then threw away the note.

"I didn't think it was something that needed to be laying around on a desk for public Joe Blow citizen or somebody to get a hold of," Prell told city attorneys looking into the incident.

Prell also was interviewed by police. She told them she threw away the note because it did not relate to city business. The investigation determined there had not been a coverup.

Ellsworth eventually terminated Prell, but an independent hearing officer overturned the firing in February 1997, stating that some of Ellsworth's criticisms were unfounded.

In addition to Gewanter's packet, someone also anonymously mailed commissioners a photo of Prell, which had been taken at an employee party held off city property.

In the photo, Prell is sitting in the lap of a shirtless former Community Service Director Charles "Hoppy" Ames, who is wearing a Mickey Mouse hat and sticking out his tongue looking at her legs. She is laughing.

"I'm sure there's a picture or two of everybody in this country that they wouldn't want taken out of context," Phillips said. "It wasn't complimentary. But that's one of the last things I would consider in making my decision."

McKenney asked the city attorney to determine if there was a way to sanction people who were harassing Prell by distributing public records to the press and commissioners. Attorney Gerald Colen explained people had a right to freedom of speech.

"I'm concerned that's the second time the chairman of our policy board has made statements about curtailing information to the public and the media," Bailey said.

At the last meeting of the commission, McKenney criticized Bailey for talking to a reporter about selling the city's reclaimed water system.

Commissioners will interview the candidates to decide who will become the next city clerk.

If the commissioners can't choose a city clerk, Phillips also has suggested appointing City Manager Carl Schwing as city clerk in addition to his other job.

But Myers argued the commission shouldn't give Schwing anything else to do. "We have so much ahead of us, I wouldn't want to place any more on the city manager."

City Attorney Gerald Colen told commissioners the city charter intended the offices to be separate, but it was possible to make the same person manager and clerk.

"I'm going to do whatever the City Commission wants and make it work," Schwing said after the meeting.