MADEIRA BEACH – Following a long absence, the city of Madeira Beach has a new planning director. Linda Portal, of St. Petersburg, has accepted the job, Interim City Manager Derryl O’Neal announced at the Aug. 22 city commission meeting.
For the past 20 years, Portal was a planning and management consultant based in Gainesville and St. Petersburg. Portal’s résumé lists among her key proficiencies, experience and skills: land use and development, mixed use development, construction (contract) administration, urban planning credentials, management of complex budgets, government administration and regulatory experience, and familiarity with Tampa Bay demographics and housing market changes.
Her past positions include director of community development for the city of Gainesville, principal planner and program manager for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, and Main Street program manager for the city of Tarpon Springs.
She has degrees from St. Louis University in Missouri, and was a doctoral candidate with certification in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Florida.
The planning director job has been open since Michelle Orton left in January. She had been on the job only five months. Prior to that, Marci Forbes was brought in as a consultant full time when two big developments were proposed in December 2015. She replaced Lynn Rosetti.
Portal was at the commission meeting and was introduced by O’Neal near the meeting’s end. It was her second day on the job.
She arrives at a time when Madeira Beach faces a number of planning department issues. Two large mixed-use developments have been approved, changed and challenged, and the scope of their eventual development is uncertain at this point. A new commission majority was elected in March in a campaign based largely on issues related to those projects.
Also, five residential properties in the city have been cited by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials for code violations. Commissioner John Douthirt said at last month’s commission meeting the city could lose its good Community Rating System score, which gives all residents a 20 percent discount on their flood insurance rates, if corrective actions are not taken.
City Clerk hire turns down job
While the city gained one key employee in Portal, city clerk designee Jennifer Johnson, whose contract was approved by the commission last month, has said she is not coming after all.
O’Neal said Johnson cited personal reasons for the turndown, which he said after the meeting were related to a child custody issue. She had accepted the city clerk position and had reportedly sold her house in Parkland, Florida, in preparation for the move.
The city may have a tough time finding another city clerk candidate who is a Certified Municipal Clerk. The commission had made certification a top priority for the new clerk hire.
Only two applicants for the job were certified. O’Neal said he had “reached out” to the other candidate, from Temple Terrace, and was told “she was very unhappy at not being accepted the first time and declined the opportunity to come back.”
O’Neal said the city would be “starting at square one” in again searching for a city clerk. The job is currently held by an interim city clerk, Andrea Gamble, who is working on becoming certified.
O’Neal contract discussed
A vote on hiring O’Neal as permanent city manager was put off at last month’s commission meeting after the city attorney said a contract needed to be negotiated before a vote on whether to hire him.
O’Neal said he wants to be paid a salary of $135,000 a year, which he said was $55,000 less than former City Manager Shane Crawford was paid last year.
O’Neal has said he wants the city manager job and should have no problem reaching an agreement on an employment contract.
The commission is expected to vote on O’Neal’s hiring at next month’s regular meeting. He appears to have the support needed to win the vote. Mayor Maggi Black and Commissioner Nancy Oakley have said they support O’Neal, and Vice Mayor John Douthirt told O’Neal last month he is “ready to go with you.”
Commissioners Nancy Hodges and Terry Lister said they believe O’Neal is “a great fire chief,” but lacks the qualifications to be city manager.