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Strong mayor question has top Clearwater officials mulling options

Published Sep. 18, 2018

CLEARWATER — It was no coincidence that after 11 years working for the city, Deputy City Manager Jill Silverboard put her name in the hat for two outside jobs within the past three months.

After discussions about changing Clearwater's council-manager government to a strong mayor system began in April, Silverboard applied to be Pinellas County administrator in June and interviewed for the Tallahassee city manager job on Monday.

"I can't say that it's unrelated," Silverboard said of her job search and the strong mayor initiative. "Typically professional managers don't work in strong mayor governments."

Voters would have to pass the referendum on Nov. 6 for the strong mayor government to take effect in 2020, but the discussion alone has pushed at least one top official in city management to consider her options.

It is impossible to know exactly what kind of personnel shakeup would occur in 2020 because strong mayors have wide discretion over how they structure staff.

By nature of the government system, Clearwater's city manager, deputy city manager and assistant city manager titles would be eliminated but whether the essence of those positions go away "is totally up to the strong mayor," said City Attorney Pam Akin.

Regardless of the referendum's outcome, City Manager Bill Horne previously stated he plans to retire in 2020 after 20 years with the city. Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell said he is not currently looking for other jobs, but as a professional manager, a strong mayor system "is not something I'm focused on working" in.

Clearwater's proposed ordinance that details how a strong mayor system would operate calls for four new positions — a city administrator with "relevant management, executive or administrative experience" and three positions under a new "office of the city council:" a budget analyst, council executive and executive assistant.

The ordinance also calls for an internal auditor to be appointed by the council, although the city currently has an auditor.

A strong mayor would have authority to hire almost all city employees independently but would need council approval for the city administrator, police chief, fire chief, city clerk and city attorney. The council would be responsible for hiring the internal auditor and three employees under the council's office.
The strong mayor could fire any employee without council approval except for the internal auditor, city attorney and the council's three staff members.

What the changes would cost is unknown. When a joint citizen-council task force wrote the proposed ordinance over seven once-weekly meetings this summer, the members did not do a personnel cost analysis for the change to a strong mayor system.

That's because "every jurisdiction ends up looking a little bit different" based on the discretion and objectives of every individual mayor, Akin said.

St. Petersburg's strong mayor government has a chief of "policy and public engagement" and a "mayor's action center" director that doesn't exist in Tampa, for example. Tampa's strong mayor system has a "minority business development" manager that is not on St. Petersburg's management chart.

"They have a lot of leeway in forming their own government," Akin said.

Silverboard was not selected for either the Pinellas County or Tallahassee management positions.
Before becoming Clearwater's deputy city manager in 2007, Silverboard worked as the city manager of Madeira Beach and Destin before that.

She said her lifelong passion is local government, which was sparked during an internship with the city of Hickory, N.C. while a student at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She now envisions herself returning again to a city manager position in the future.

"I had just always hoped it might be here," she said of Clearwater.

PREVIOUS STRONG MAYOR COVERAGE

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Here's what a strong mayor would look like in Clearwater

Clearwater voters: a strong mayor question is official on the Nov. 6 ballot

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As Clearwater prepares to vote on strong mayor, the question is who would run?

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.