Council members picked a new city attorney on Tuesday night and voted to begin negotiations to hire Tom O'Neill, the former New Port Richey city manager, as Port Richey's interim city manager.
Joseph Poblick, who serves as city attorney for Zephyrhills, will now provide legal services to Port Richey, too.
Mayor Richard Rober told city staffers to execute a contract on Wednesday with Poblick after the council voted unanimously to hire him. The proposed terms included a monthly retainer fee of $1,610 to cover 14 hours of work, with an hourly rate after that of $125 for transactional work and $150 for litigation.
Poblick beat out two other finalists - Palm Harbor attorney Joseph Salzman and St. Petersburg attorney Timothy Driscoll - for the spot. He will take over for outgoing City Attorney Michael Brannigan, who resigned in March after the council announced it would seek bids for the position.
Council members said they received glowing recommendations on Poblick.
"I think he is an honorable man, and I would like to go forward," council member Nancy Britton said upon making a motion to hire him.
Poblick, who has been Zephyrhills city attorney since 2006, also operates a general practice firm there. In addition to his law degree from Loyola School of Law in New Orleans, Poblick has a master's in public administration from the University of South Florida. He did not attend Tuesday's meeting and did not return a call Wednesday for comment.
The council also took another step toward putting O'Neill at the helm until a permanent city manager can be found.
For weeks, council members have debated whether to hire O'Neill as interim city manager while they wade through the process of hiring a permanent manager. On Tuesday evening, the council voted to begin negotiations with O'Neill, with the caveat that a final contract must be approved by another vote.
Only council member Terry Rowe voted against it, arguing the city should go straight into the process of hiring a permanent city manager. Police Chief Dave Brown has been serving as acting city manager since February, when the council fired Ellen Posivach after a critical audit.
"I don't see it taking that long," Rowe said of finding a permanent manager.
How much O'Neill would be paid remains up in the air. Rober said he discussed an annual salary of $84,000 to $88,000 with O'Neill. Both Rowe and council member Bill Colombo bristled at those figures as too high.
Colombo said he would like to see a bare bones offer of $6,000 month-to-month. O'Neill did not attend the meeting, but Rober said the council would be presented with exact numbers for the final vote following negotiations.