CLEARWATER — The search for a new city manager officially began in March, but it took on new meaning this month.
On Aug. 14, 20-year city manager Bill Horne died of a suspected heart attack, three weeks before his planned retirement. The City Council is now preparing to host four finalists for in-person interviews, the same week that should have been Horne’s last in office.
The public is invited to a meet and greet with the candidates Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen Booth Road. The council will interview each candidate publicly Thursday beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Main Library, 100 N. Osceola Ave., and will discuss whether to vote on a hire at 1 p.m.
The finalists are Milton Dohoney, former assistant city manager of Phoenix, Arizona; Charles Duggan, city manager of Redlands, California; Jon Jennings, city manager of Portland, Maine; and Keith Moffett, county manager for Macon-Bibb County, Georgia.
The council invited Duggan to interview after finalist Jerome Fletcher, an administrator from Maryland, dropped out Aug. 11 to accept the city manager position in North Port.
In Clearwater’s council-manager form of government, the elected mayor and council hire the city manager to run day-to-day operations and carry out the policies of the council. The salary range for the position is $210,000 to $270,000.
The Tampa Bay Times spoke with the finalists before their interviews.
Dohoney had been working in local government in his home state of Kentucky for 20 years when he was recruited in 2006 to be city manager of Cincinnati.
At the time, the downtown along the Ohio River “was 18 acres of dirt nothing,” he said. But over his eight years in office, he helped lay the foundation for what is now a regional attraction of restaurants, residential and office projects called “The Banks” between two already existing major league sports stadiums.
Dohoney, 65, helped secure state and federal funding for a streetcar project and managed the $2.5 billion budget and 6,000 employees.
In 2014, he became assistant city manager of Phoenix, Arizona, the fifth-largest city in the United States. With public safety as direct reports, he dealt with issues as vast as the border and Super Bowl preparation. When the pandemic hit, he took the lead on the response for the city’s 1.7 million residents.
At the same time, his team responded to 100 consecutive days of social justice protests. Dohoney said he resigned in February to recharge with the intention of returning to local government somewhere in the No. 1 position.
He hopes to be a part of Clearwater’s downtown revitalization efforts, to prepare the city for sea-level rise and to work with residents to strengthen neighborhoods.
“There are a lot of projects the city has ongoing,” Dohoney said. “I also believe that the city manager will need to find some way to help the organization heal. Dealing with the loss of Bill Horne and the impact he had is going to be something that’s going to take some time.”
The only job that would make Duggan leave his role as Redlands, California, city manager, is Clearwater.
“It’s not that I want to leave Redlands, but I want to come to Clearwater, which for me is a great distinction,” said Duggan, who has family in Largo.
Duggan, 54, grew up in Dunedin, and after graduating from Auburn University, spent 26 years in Auburn local government, 11 as city manager.
He studied applied physics at Auburn University, and while applying for his MBA, Duggan got a job working for the city’s parks and recreation department.
Over the next 26 years, he served as director of parks and recreation, director of information technology and city manager.
He said he oversaw Auburn’s move “from a large town to a small city” and helped balance the growing pains with strategic planning. He created a multi-departmental design review team that reviewed plans with developers face-to-face to avoid delays and miscommunications.
He took office following the controversial resignation of his predecessor and Duggan said he helped restore trust. He said he spoke to citizen groups about ethical government and set clear goals for his staff, restoring stability and direction.
He moved to California in 2017 to be administrative services director of the Marin Municipal Water District and took over leading the city of Redlands in January 2020.
Duggan said while responding to the pandemic he was able to adjust department budgets to make up for lost revenue. He also “reassured the city they can trust their government” when advocating for the successful passage of a 1-cent sales tax increase.
“I listen more than I talk, my mind can be changed and all I care about is the best idea in the room,” Duggan said.
The city manager of Portland, Maine, Jennings said his leadership philosophy comes from his mentor, NBA coaching legend Red Auerbach.
From how to pick team members to how to treat people, Jennings, 58, draws on his decade as a scout and coach for the Boston Celtics.
His interest in government prompted him to apply for a White House fellowship in 1997 with the Clinton Administration. He worked in the Office of Cabinet Affairs under Thurgood Marshall Jr. and as acting assistant attorney general for legislative affairs.
After an unsuccessful 2004 run for Congress as a Democrat in a red Indiana district, he raised $1.5 million to bring the Maine Red Claws, an NBA development team, to Portland.
He pivoted to local government, becoming assistant city manager of South Portland, Maine, in 2013 and city manager of Portland in 2015.
“The reason I love municipal government is because I can see the tangible benefit of the impact we have every single day,” Jennings said.
Jennings said he helped center an unstable government by accelerating stormwater and sewer upgrades and expanding training for department heads. He created a sustainability program and helped build a 4-acre solar farm.
Last year, progressive activists called for him to resign, saying he backed a “law enforcement approach to poverty, homelessness, and mental and behavioral health struggles,” according to the Portland Press Herald. The mayor and City Council defended Jennings’ commitment to racial and economic justice, the newspaper reported.
Jennings said he’s been targeted by activists upset with the form of government. A charter review commission is contemplating whether to give more power to an elected mayor, a referendum that could go to voters in the future.
The Press Herald reported Jennings received a leadership award from the Maine Town and City Managers Association for the city’s response to the arrival of 450 asylum seekers in 2019. The city opened a shelter and worked with area agencies to find housing for the families.
“I’m a person who loves to get things done,” Jennings said. “In Clearwater, I find a city that is really on the cusp of realizing a lot more of its potential and that’s exciting to me.”
Keith Moffett grew up in Macon, Georgia, and dedicated most of his local government career to his hometown.
He spent nine years in the U.S. Navy as a navigation electronic technician working on guidance systems for nuclear missiles. Moffett, 50, then began his education in engineering but “fell in love with local government” after an internship with a chamber of commerce.
Moffett joined Macon government in 2007 as director of internal affairs and served as assistant to the chief administrative officer from 2012 to 2014.
The city of Macon and Bibb County governments consolidated in 2014, and Moffett was appointed director of the 911 communications center. In the first year, he increased efficiency in calls and dispatches and implemented an $8 million program to modernize communications.
He worked as administrator of Butts County, Georgia, from 2015 to 2018 before becoming manager of Macon-Bibb County in 2018.
Besides running day-to-day operations, Moffett said he has prioritized the redevelopment of blighted properties into affordable housing through partnerships with developers. He said he is excited by Clearwater’s downtown revitalization efforts because of work he’s done to revive downtown Macon in partnership with a nonprofit aimed at attracting businesses and providing grants to business owners.
“I’m looking for an opportunity to use my education and skills but at the same time continue to grow and learn,” said Moffett, who earned a doctorate degree in educational leadership.