ST. PETE BEACH — City Manager Wayne Saunders, hired four years ago, has decided to retire in the spring to return to the Clermont area where he still has friends and family.
"It was a very hard decision," Saunders told the City Commission on Tuesday.
The commission, which had repeatedly praised Saunders' performance and given him repeated substantial raises, gave him yet another one, bringing his salary — at least for the next six months — to $173,000.
"There is nobody with a better work ethic and who cares more about our city," said Vice Mayor Melinda Pletcher, praising Saunders' efforts "to save us money every single day."
When Saunders was hired in 2014 he was finance director for Port Orange and had previously served as Clermont's city manager for 27 years.
Saunders, 69, has pledged to remain past his planned March departure to help his replacement's transition.
Whom his replacement will be will not be known for about three months, the time Colin Baenziger, founder of the search firm, Colin Baenziger & Associates, says it will take to find a suitable candidate.
Tuesday, the city commission voted unanimously to hire Baenziger, whose Daytona Beach Shores firm found Saunders, to repeat the process and find the city's next city manager.
"They did an excellent job getting our present city manager," Pletcher said.
The search will cost the city $26,500, which includes a guarantee to repeat the search if for any reason, the final candidate cannot serve or is found unsuitable.
The search will include ads, database searches, emails, telephone calls and extensive background checks.
Baenziger estimated it would take no more than 88 days to complete the process.
The city will be presented with about a dozen candidates, from which they will choose five finalists who will be invited to the city for interviews.
"We want to make it difficult for you to choose from five candidates because they will all be so good," Baenziger told the commission, adding that he has up to a 98 percent "success rate".
Among other recent searches, Baenziger's firm helped Treasure Island, Fort Lauderdale, Naples, Jacksonville Beach, Aventura, Stuart, and Parkland, among others, find managers.
Ironically, the city manager that Saunders replaced, Mike Bonfield, was fired earlier this month from his post as manager of the city of Creedmoor, N.C.
Bonfield, who had previously served as city manager for St. Pete Beach for 12 years and was fired following a controversial election, could not be reached for comment.