MADEIRA BEACH – Interim City Manager Derryl O’Neal may soon be dropping the “interim” from his title. Two of five city commission members appear ready to forego an agreed upon candidate search and name O’Neal as city manager.
Speaking during a discussion of how to move forward on filling the city manager job at the July 25 commission workshop, Mayor Maggi Black said if O’Neal would accept the position, “then we would have no need for a search.”
But Commission Terry Lister appeared astounded after hearing Black’s comment. “What?!” he exclaimed. Turning to O’Neal, Lister said, “Chief, you don’t want to be the city manager, do you?”
O’Neal said he originally agreed to fill in as city manager because he was concerned for the residents and employees. But he has since “become more and more comfortable in the position.”
If the job is advertised, O’Neal said he would definitely apply for it.
“It is a challenging position,” he said, “and I appreciate the support I have had from the departments heads and city staff.”
O’Neal said he had been with the city since 2001, and “it’s not that far fetched for me to fill this position.”
Black said she did not know why the commission needs to interview anyone else when “we already have someone we know that is doing the job, and doing it well.”
“I agree,” said Commissioner Nancy Oakley.
The commission had agreed last month to do a search for city manager candidates. They picked Range Riders/Senior Advisors, an all-volunteer group of retired city officials who conduct searches and recommend candidates at no charge, for the job. They would be assisted in the search effort by city staff.
But O’Neal pointed out that a recent city manager search that group did for Treasure Island resulted in 43 applications. He said their commission rejected all of them, calling them “the worst group of applicants we’ve ever seen.”
The commission will vote on hiring O’Neal as city manager at next month’s meeting. Vice Mayor John Douthirt will likely be the deciding vote.
Douthirt gave no indication of how he would vote.
“I want to give this some more thought,” he said.
Douthirt supported O’Neal in a 3-2 decision to hire him as acting city manager.
Flood insurance issue arises
Residents’ flood insurance rates could take a big jump upward if noncompliant properties in the city are not corrected. That was the message Douthirt said he got from a Federal Emergency Management Agency official during a recent phone conversation on the issues related to a visit to the city by FEMA last year.
Douthirt said the official told him the city could lose its good Community Rating System score, which gives residents a 20 percent discount on their flood insurance rates, if corrective actions are not taken.
The FEMA conversation left many unanswered questions, like how the city’s building inspector passed properties that did not meet FEMA code, and what actions the city and property owners need to take, Douthirt said.
“We need to know what we need to do so we do not lose our rating and residents’ insurance costs go through the roof,” he said.
The commission also heard from Marci Forbes of the consulting firm Deuel and Associates, who has been looking into the FEMA issue for the city in the absence of a planning official. Forbes said FEMA is looking for a corrective action plan from the city “so this will not happen again.”
Forbes told the commission, “You need to formulate a plan that will prevent this from happening in the future. Something that is legally enforceable.”
“A lot more information is needed before that can be done,” Douthirt said. “There are too many variables that we just don’t know,” he said. “It is critical to get this right,” Douthirt stressed. “It could be a big strike against the city if we don’t do it right.”
Forbes said the current status is that the city provided specific information requested by FEMA and “we are kind of in a holding pattern waiting on their response.”
O’Neal said there are five properties in the city currently in violation of the FEMA code.