MADEIRA BEACH — Robert Daniels stepped in as city manager two years ago amid rapid turnover in Madeira Beach’s city hall. Now, he’ll need to reapply for his job after the city’s board of commissioners voted not to renew his contract.
The vote came at a special meeting earlier this month and will open up a search that could result in the city’s fourth manager since 2017. Daniels’ contract is set to expire Sept. 1.
“Unless somebody wants to make the case that this city is running perfectly, and we shouldn’t look outside of what we got currently – I’m not sure that that argument can be made,” commissioner Doug Andrews said before the vote.
Now, just over a week after the vote, there has been little traction in promoting the new role, Madeira Beach Mayor John Hendricks said. The commission will likely work with the city attorney to decide on where to look. There have been no advertisements or interviews so far, he said.
Hendricks, who voted against the motion to not renew the contract, said he was disappointed that the board did not renew it.
“Bob has done most everything I’ve asked him to do,” he said.
While making clear that the decision was not “firing somebody or embarrassing somebody,” Andrews - along with the other two commissioners who voted for not renewing Daniels - cited Madeira Beach’s complicated makeup, along with the chance for a manager to better navigate its divisions, as reasons to look elsewhere.
Along the 2.5 miles of beachfront that make up Madeira Beach, bitter divisions over how to develop properties have run deep, and several city managers have come and gone in recent years. Before Daniels was Jonathan Evans, who resigned to return to his old job as Riviera Beach’s city manager. He was accused by Andrews of lying to the commission about his commitment to Madeira Beach.
Daniels was hired in 2019 as the commission moved quickly to find a replacement for Evans. He served as interim city manager for a month in 2019 before the commission passed a rare unanimous vote to keep him full-time. This came after the commission’s first two choices for city manager fell through.
During Daniels’ two years as city manager, Madeira Beach has navigated a sand dredge problem at tourist attraction John’s Pass, zoning hurdles, the coronavirus pandemic and the long-lasting conflict between development and anti-development groups in the city.
“I agree we need to open this up and look for somebody with a skillset that really fits our town a little more so than how Bob was really drafted at the last minute,” said commissioner and Vice Mayor Helen “Happy” Price at the meeting. “I would like to open it up and see who else would be interested in being our city manager. And comparing him to whoever else applies.”
Price said in a text message that she would not yet disclose what she is looking for in the next city manager — the board will decide that as a group, she said. Andrews, in an emailed statement, said new appointments in city hall makes the city manager an attractive position again, and “it only makes sense to gauge the interest that’s out there.”
Speaking in front of the commission on June 8, Daniels made the case for why he should stay. He cited increased community outreach and an improved relationship with the city’s business community. He said that coronavirus restrictions and a turbulent 2020 hindered some of what he had hoped to accomplish.
“In reality, when you take one of those years out, we couldn’t do the normal contact things that I like to do with the residents,” Andrews said at the meeting. “We couldn’t do ‘Breakfast with Bob’. We couldn’t do live meetings for a while. And not having that outreach is important not only for the commission, but for your city manager. And that’s what I’ve tried hard to work on.”
He also said he never asked for a raise because he didn’t want to bring it up with the commission. He currently makes $125,000 along with benefits, per his contract.
“So I just hope that you can look at those things and the positives that we’ve been able to accomplish, and the bridges that we’ve built,” Andrews continued.
After he spoke, Price put the decision to a vote.
“I’ll make a motion for the city of Madeira Beach not to extend the city manager’s employment agreement, but certainly open it up and we fully expect Bob Daniels to reapply.”
The motion passed, 3-2.