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Council votes to keep interim city manager

His name may have faded in the year since he was tapped as the new city manager, but the demands still elicit laughter.

A country club membership, $190,000 home loan, a new car and up to 80 days off _ those were only some of the perks Tony Hammond sought. He walked when the council snubbed the requests, and the job went to Phil Lilly.

Lilly, full of optimism when he became the city's eighth manager since 1990, promptly resigned last month, placing the city in a familiar position.

But as the City Council indicated Monday night, there may be no spectacle this time around.

By voting unanimously to negotiate a contract with interim City Manager Susan Boyer, the council, at the mayor's suggestion, cut short what could have been a lengthy and costly selection and interview process.

"She's been here for six weeks. She knows us. We've gotten to know her," council member John Kendall said.

"The staff seems to be happy. The citizens seem to be happy. The council appears to be happy and able to work with her."

On Tuesday, City Attorney David La Croix met with Boyer briefly at City Hall to discuss the negotiation process. He said he would immediately begin polling council members to develop contract terms.

The goal is a final vote on Dec. 9, but at least two council members will be traveling in the time leading up to the meeting, so a decision could be delayed.

Boyer said she is confident a deal can be reached. Alluding to the Hammond situation, she added, "The things I will request will be reasonable."

She declined to discuss specifics but said she would be looking for a long-term deal (Lilly had a four-year contract that would have paid him $70,200 this year) and that a severance package would be a key negotiating point.

A former city manager who assisted the city in its search, which drew 73 applicants, told the council that a candidate would likely seek a "generous" severance of between nine and 12 months.

Boyer, 40, lives in Lady Lake, where she was town manager for 16 months before being fired in June 1999. She has spent most of her career in local government, working in several Florida communities, including Port Orange, Avon Park and Haines City.

She holds two degrees from the University of Florida: a bachelor's in political science, with a concentration in public administration; and a master's in political science/public administration.

The unanimous vote was encouraging, Boyer said, because it showed the council is willing "to work together on a major issue that has not always been easy."

Sure, she added, the city has problems. "But we have a good staff and the ability and opportunity to deal with our issues."

Council members cited Boyer's directness and familiarity with Florida issues as her strong points. "I think she's a very professional person," said newly elected member Roger Proffer.

Susan Kirk, also a council member, noted that Boyer has experience with factional politics and the experience could help Crystal River, which has struggled with partisanship. Boyer said her firing in 1999 was a result of an election turnover.

Kirk also likes that Boyer has been involved in key issues the city faces: annexation, water quality and collective bargaining.

The praise for Boyer was echoed by residents who attended the meeting Monday.

"Experience is essential," said businesswoman Claire Titus. "Crystal River has lacked that in a city manager for a period of time. Susan Boyer has that quality."

If the council cannot settle on a contract with Boyer, it has selected two alternative candidates: Don Pickard, a former city administrator in Tennessee who now lives in Florida, and Shelton Smith, former city manager of Dothan, Ala.

_ Alex Leary can be reached at (352) 564-3623 or