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New Port Richey official resigns

(ran North, South editions)

In a time of hiring headaches, New Port Richey officials just added one more migraine to the pile: Assistant city manager Gerald Paradise is leaving.

News of his resignation reached elected officials early this week, just as they are trying to hire a new city manager to replace Gerald Seeber, who left this summer for a new post in Central Florida.

Paradise's timing could have been better, City Council member Bob Langford said.

"But I'm optimistic the people running that department will do a great job," he said Wednesday.

Paradise, who is leaving a revised role as assistant city manager for redevelopment, is the fourth department head to leave the city in the past year. He started a two-week vacation this week and could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

He will begin administrative leave and receive a severance package when the two-week break is over, interim city manager Philip Deaton said.

"Gerry and I talked about it and concluded this was best," Deaton said.

Paradise, who started with the city 4{ years ago, was earning $67,943 a year. He told officials he wanted to seek other opportunities, possibly finishing his career as a city manager.

Under his supervision, the redevelopment and development services departments merged. Now they will be split back up.

And while administrators said Paradise has yet to tender a resignation letter, "my understanding is he's already gone," Langford said.

Paradise's departure is the latest on a growing list. In October, police chief Aage Madsen retired. Gary Breevort, the city's chief building official, resigned in April. Director of development services, Fred Metcalf, left shortly after that in June for a job in Gulfport.

He was followed two weeks later by Seeber, who left to become city manager of Oviedo near Orlando after leading New Port Richey since 1988.

City Council members still are trying to replace Seeber. This summer they narrowed a pool of more than 100 applicants to five finalists but hit some snags in recent weeks.

Of the city's five initial finalists, one dropped out before being interviewed.

An alternate candidate, Samuel Monticello of Hazleton, Pa., was named Port Richey's top choice for its open city manager job. Although on Wednesday, Monticello removed himself from the running for the Port Richey spot.

A second finalist, Jerald Ducay _ village administrator in Frankfurt, Ill. _ withdrew his name from consideration on Tuesday after touring New Port Richey and being interviewed by council members who dubbed him a favorable candidate.

But "he (Ducay) decided that his family didn't fit here," Langford said, citing an e-mail forwarded to the council.

So on Wednesday, elected leaders sat down to interview their final candidate _ J. Scott Miller of College Park, Ga. City Council members each stated their positive impressions of him _ and of his redevelopment expertise, a key initiative for the city.

But wary of working with too few candidates, the council unanimously agreed to reopen their manager search after he left the building in hopes of bringing in at least two more finalists.

Yet elected officials were quick to say that Paradise's departure, following his vacation and up to 135 days of administrative leave, will not affect their hiring timetable.

Nor will it lead them to place more emphasis on a redevelopment background in a city manager.

"It would have been a big factor anyway," council member Ginny Miller said of revitalization experience. "I don't know that his (Paradise's) leaving changes that."

Deaton, who joined New Port Richey in June, said Paradise had approached him "on and off" about resigning since Deaton's first week on the job.

Nor was Paradise alone in his desire to seek other opportunities.

"There are others that are in the market," Deaton said of the staff at City Hall. "I think the idea is to see what they're worth."

Miller noted a number of New Port Richey's remaining department heads are eligible for retirement or soon will be.

"Some are in DROP (a deferred retirement option plan)" or are close to it, she said, mentioning fire Chief Dan Azzariti, parks and recreation director Bob Consalvo, public works director Tom O'Neill and library director Susan Dillinger.

"It's just that way," she said.