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2nd choice gets offer as No. 1 says no

The search for a new city manager will continue after the Pennsylvania man picked for the job said Wednesday that he no longer is interested, citing shortcomings in pay and contract length.

Sam Monticello told the city clerk that he would lose about $33,000 by accepting the Port Richey position. The amount includes higher health insurance costs and a disparity in what Monticello currently earns as city administrator of Hazleton, Pa., and Port Richey's offered annual salary, $70,000.

"He said it was a very difficult decision because he truly wanted to come here," clerk Shirley Dresch said.

Monticello, who is 48 and has a wife and 11-year-old son, did not return a phone call from the Times on Wednesday. He had been considering the job since Sept. 9.

The council was prepared for rejection, having previously picked a backup candidate. Now the job has been offered to Russell Benford, the 35-year-old village administrator of Hawthorn Woods, Ill.

Benford told the Times on Wednesday afternoon that he would have to review the terms, but "it's a great opportunity."

He has overseen the posh Chicago suburb of about 6,000 people since early 2000 and previously worked as a planner for Plano, Texas. Benford has a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College in Ohio and a master's in public affairs from the University of Texas in Austin.

In a recent interview with the City Council, Benford drew praise for his relaxed demeanor, "hands-on" approach and expertise in planning. "I think he'd be a good leader," council member Bill Bennett said Wednesday.

Monticello might have a shot at coming to Florida. Wednesday, New Port Richey council member Tom Finn suggested the city consider interviewing him for its vacant manager position. The annual salary, about $100,000, is more in line with what Monticello now earns.

"I'm disappointed, but I can understand why he's not taking the job," Port Richey council member Phyllis Grae said.

Aside from the money, she said, Monticello had a legitimate request for a contract ensuring him a set number of years, say three or five. The council had offered an "at will" contract that can be ended by either party at any time.

Benford also earns more than $70,000, but as he told the council, the cost of living in the Chicago area is much higher than in Port Richey or surrounding communities.

"It's more about the opportunity," he said at the time.