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New Port Richey picks new manager

(ran North, South editions)

After debating how much longer they should spend searching for Gerald Seeber's replacement as city manager, council members voted 4-1 Thursday evening to offer the job to J. Scott Miller of College Park, Ga.

The decision came about an hour after City Council members finished interviewing a fifth finalist _ Charles Saddler III, currently a stay-at-home dad from Lakeland.

Although he was initially cut from an earlier round of finalists, Saddler was brought in after the council decided last week to broaden its field of candidates. Just before that decision, a number of the council's chosen finalists had withdrawn their names from consideration.

But opinions were mixed Thursday after Saddler's appearance. Some members favored placing him among their top picks; others were opposed.

However, the council was enthusiastic about Miller, who was interviewed on Sept. 22 after being delayed earlier in the month by Hurricane Ivan.

Noting the consensus and warning that the negotiation process could take awhile, council member Ginny Miller opted not to extend the search any further and moved to offer J. Scott Miller (no relation) the post.

"I think we need to make a move," she said.

Only council member Tom Finn disagreed, saying the council should take the weekend to review a recently expanded list of candidates.

But a majority of elected officials said enough time had passed already.

"We didn't hire Mr. Deaton to fill in here until we have the perfect candidate," said council member Bob Langford.

Philip Deaton, a Citrus County resident, began serving as New Port Richey's interim city manager in mid-June after Seeber left to lead the city of Oviedo, near Orlando.

Although Deaton said he would remain as long as needed, he did note that the snowbirds from whom he is renting a condo will return soon and that he would like to spend Christmas with his family in Citrus.

"On my calendar pad I have a little note that says: Last Day. Every few days I move it back another week," he joked.

Also a factor in deciding to offer Miller the job, elected officials said, is the need to establish some permanent leadership at City Hall. In recent months, New Port Richey has seen the departures of several major department heads _ an exodus that continued last week with the resignation of Gerald Paradise, assistant city manager for redevelopment.

"I think he felt his talents weren't appreciated," said Finn, who made a failed motion at Thursday's special meeting to allow Paradise to interview for the city manager's job.

"He did some good things," agreed Mayor Dan Tipton. "But he also didn't want to be here. He cleaned out his office a week ago Monday."

Now the field appears to be clear for Miller of College Park, a city of 20,000 southwest of Atlanta. During his interview, Miller spoke of his experience with redevelopment _ a key initiative for New Port Richey _ and his emphasis on team-building.

Following the council's decision Thursday, city staff will begin fine-tuning a compensation package to offer Miller should he take the post as city manager. The job was advertised with a roughly $100,000 annual salary.

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