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New Madeira Beach commission signals change
Monetary benefits to weigh more in spending decisions
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MADEIRA BEACH – A new commission majority gave a clear signal of changes to come at their June 27 workshop session. On issues ranging from event policy to water taxis and even selection of a city manager, the message was unmistakable: there’s new leadership in the city, and the previous ways of doing business are going to change.

A key watchword for commission decisions is now accountability – holding programs, projects and events to a profit or loss test. The key question will be how do they profit the city, based on actual numbers. Past approvals based on “making the city better” in intangible ways are gone.

City manager search begins

In the hiring of a new city manager, the commission decided to make use of Range Riders/Senior Advisors, an all-volunteer group of retired city officials who conduct searches and recommend city manager candidates, at no charge.

Their advice will be combined with a search conducted by city staff in making the final choice.

The commission rejected the use of a professional headhunter to conduct the city manager search, which could cost up to $25,000 plus expenses, according to a Range Rider/Senior Advisor spokesperson who presented his organization’s capabilities.

The commission also decided not to conduct a separate search for an interim city manager, choosing to leave Fire Chief Derryl O’Neal in that position. O’Neal said he has “enjoyed filling the city manager role” and had named one of the firefighters as acting fire chief. The extra pay O’Neal is receiving for handling the city manager responsibilities is far less than the expense of a search to fill the interim job. Plus, O’Neal in the job would mean less disruption for the city, Mayor Maggi Black said.

Local developer William Karns tried to speak on the city manager issue, but was told public comment was not permitted at workshop sessions. Karns told the Beacon after the meeting that he had wanted to inform the commission that Treasure Island’s use of the Range Riders/Senior Advisors in their search for a city manager had resulted in “the worst field of candidates we ever saw.” The city has since hired a headhunter for the candidate search.

‘Excellent’ city clerk candidates interviewed

The search for a new city clerk to replace Cheryl Crawford appears to be nearing an end. O’Neal said there were “numerous applicants” and two candidates who had the certification the commission wanted.

Commissioner Nancy Oakley said one whom she interviewed was “an excellent candidate who has a Masters certification.”

“I thought the same thing,” said Black.

The commission did agree to extend the city clerk search by one week, until July 7, at the request of Commissioner Nancy Hodges. Hodges said with the extended deadline she hoped to get more candidates who meet the qualifications.

Commissioner Terry Lister was absent from the meeting.

Water taxi service may end with subsidy loss

The commission’s focus on profit/loss to justify spending will likely leave the city’s fledgling water taxi service in jeopardy. The current contract calls for payment of a $25,000 per year subsidy to its operation, an amount water taxi spokesperson Cory Hubbard said was essential to its continued operation.

The one-year contract with the city ends Oct. 1. A majority of the commission members were not in favor of renewing the agreement.

“Let it expire,” said Vice Mayor John Douthirt.

“Why are we subsidizing this?” asked Oakley.

Black read an email that said, in part, the water taxi service “does not meet any identifiable local need or meaningfully reduce vehicle traffic.” Further, “it is extremely unlikely this service could ever achieve any resident/taxpayer benefit commensurate with the $25,000 subsidy, and it should be discontinued.”

“I agree with that,” said Black.

Commissioner Nancy Hodges was the only commission member present to support the water taxi.

“I’m for it,” she said. “They’re doing a great service bringing people into the city.”

Public Works/Marina Director Dave Marsicano said the water taxi has helped “get some cars off the road” by transporting people to city concerts and other events. “It’s worked good for the past year,” he said.

Hubbard said the water taxi “showcases our community” by bringing more people into the city and getting them to attractions like John’s Pass. While admitting ridership has been low, Hubbard said marketing efforts are being done to support it. Madeira Beach residents get a 50 percent discount, she said.

The ferry’s survival depends on the city’s support, Hubbard said.

“In order to continue, we absolutely need the city’s support,” she said. “The ferry will disappear without the support of the city.”

The commission will vote on continuing the water taxi’s contract with the city at next month’s meeting. However, Black said a consensus had already been reached, with three of the commissioners opposed to renewing the contract.

City events must justify costs

In a discussion of event policy, the commission, led by Oakley, stressed the need for the income from the events to be higher than the costs to the city. She also wants the commission to be included in approving city events. The approval process now includes the city manager, public works/marina director, finance director, fire chief, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and recreation director.

“The commission needs to approve as well,” said Oakley.

Also, she told Recreation Director Doug Andrews, “I want to see the city at least break even on events, and not cost the taxpayers anything.

“I’m 100 percent with you,” Andrews replied.

Black said, “I want to see what the revenue is, and what this is costing us.”

Oakley said all events should be paid for. “Everybody (doing an event) needs to be charged,” she said.

“I agree,” said Andrews.

Invocation prayer to stay

A divided commission agreed to continue the non-sectarian prayer said at the beginning of the commission meetings.

Douthirt joined Hodges in favoring a continuation of the practice. Black and Oakley were for removing it.

Black said the commission meetings were “not religious” meetings. Douthirt said he is a religious person “so it’s very hard for me to say ‘Let’s take it out.’”

Douthirt said more people of various denominations and people of different faiths could be asked to participate.

In the end, the mayor said, “Even though Terry (Lister) is not here, I’m going to take into consideration what I believe his views would be, and it looks like the consensus would be to keep it in.” Lister gives the invocation most of the time.
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