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Clearwater to host city manager finalists despite fewer choices

The City Council planned to interview five candidates next week, but three dropped out after being named finalists.
Clearwater city manager finalists Carl Geffken, city manager of Fort Smith, Ark., (left) and Kevin Woods, city manager of Thornton, Colo., (right).
Clearwater city manager finalists Carl Geffken, city manager of Fort Smith, Ark., (left) and Kevin Woods, city manager of Thornton, Colo., (right). [ Courtesy of Carl Geffken and Kevin Woods ]
Published Jun. 9
Updated Jun. 10

CLEARWATER — The City Council next week will conduct in-person interviews as planned for the city manager job, even though the list of candidates has dropped to two.

Council members selected their top five candidates from a list of 10 semi-finalists prepared by the city’s search firm on May 24. But, since then, three withdrew their names from consideration, one as recently as Monday.

At a special meeting Wednesday on whether to proceed or restart the nationwide search, the council decided to continue with the process and then revaluate if neither candidate wins them over next week.

“We all agreed on five finalists; the fact that three of them fell out does not disqualify the other two,” council member Hoyt Hamilton said.

Next week, city officials and the public will meet Carl Geffken, city manager of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Kevin Woods, city manager of Thornton, Colorado.

The men are seeking to succeed city manager Bill Horne, who has led the city for 20 years and had planned for his last day to be in July after contract negotiations with his successor were expected to have been completed.

On Monday, the finalists are scheduled to go on a three-hour tour of the city. On Tuesday they will have one-on-one interviews with City Council members and then participate in a community forum from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Ruth Eckerd Hall. They are scheduled to participate in a public City Council interview on Wednesday.

The interview schedule includes a possible special meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday for council members to vote on a hire. They could also vote on their choice at the regular council meeting on Thursday at 6 p.m., according to the schedule.

“If there isn’t a good fit next week, then I’m willing to go back to the drawing board,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said. “I hope that isn’t the case. I hope we’ve got a love connection, but that may not happen. And if it doesn’t happen then that’s my intention is to go back.”

During his five years leading Fort Smith, population 88,000, Geffken said the annual balance of the city’s general fund increased from 9 percent of expenses to 56 percent due to the budgetary controls he implemented.

Geffken noted his accomplishments in taking over the handling of two federal wastewater consent decrees, one in Fort Smith and another in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he served as city manager from 2009 to 2012.

He also worked as chief operating officer for Berks County, Pennsylvania, from 2012 to 2016 and in nonprofits prior to that.

While managing Thornton since 2017, a city of 145,000, Woods has led a $500 million, 75-mile water project and created a community outreach department to better understand undeserved residents, according to his application.

He served as town manager of Stallings, North Carolina, from 2014 to 2017 and spent 26 years in the U.S. Army, with his last assignment as deputy commander in Texas, where he was responsible for the support to all Army operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Council member Kathleen Beckman lamented that the city got this far along in its search, which began with 91 applicants, only to lose some of their choices from the consultant’s list of 10 semi-finalists.

Tamarac, Florida, city manager Michael Cernech, who was a council favorite, told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday his decision to drop out was personal but declined to provide details. He said it “had nothing to do with the city of Clearwater.”

Former Roswell, Georgia, city administrator Gary Palmer withdrew on May 28 without providing a reason. Jill Goldsmith, town manager of Chatham, Massachusetts, dropped out hours after the council named her a finalist. She said in a statement to the Times it was “a personal decision to remain committed to my current community.”