INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – When City Manager Chuck Coward announced his retirement a few weeks ago there was immediate concern about his replacement. Along those lines, several questions were answered at the City Commission meeting Tuesday, May 14.
Coward, who is the point man for vetting the applicants, reported to the commission that things looked good.
“We have had 60 applications and that’s a healthy number,” he said. “I haven’t read them all, but I’ve seen a good number of them and I’ve talked to a few and I can tell you they are of good quality. You should be happy.”
Coward will formally step down at the end of May. But he has promised to stay involved with the choosing of his replacement. The job of actually paring down the applicants to a manageable number has been turned over to the Range Riders, a group of retired city managers. Two of them, plus Coward, form the trio who will perform that work. Coward has developed a timeline, which he presented to the Commission.
“The list of applicants has already been sent to the Range Riders,” he said. “By May 23 we should be in a position to present 10 or 12 candidates to the commission for initial screening.”
After that the commission will meet at 2 p.m. on May 29 to select the five candidates for formal interviews. Coward said if all goes well the new manager should be appointed by June 25.
As part of his report on the recruiting process Coward sent a memo to the mayor and commissioners reminding them of the criteria they should take into account when choosing the finalists for the job.
He wrote that the new city manager should have strong project management skills given the capital projects already under way or in the planning stages in the city.
He stressed the need for the candidates to have strong public works experience.
“Fully two-thirds of IRB staff functions revolve around public works disciplines,” he wrote.
In fact 20 of the 30 employees of the city work in the public works department. And he wrote of the need for the new city manager to have direct personnel management skills.
“The IRB staff is a relatively small group of 30 employees who look directly to the city manager for hands-on personnel management.”
He also reminded the commissioners that Indian Rocks Beach is a small city and as such they should remember the economy of scale when choosing the new manager.
“This city can afford to pay anywhere from $95,000 to $105,000 in salary,” he said. “Some of the applicants are already making over $150,000 and are superbly qualified. You should keep the scale of what you can afford in mind.”
Later in the meeting Coward then got on what he called his soapbox regarding the new city manager.
“I keep hearing that we need to hire someone with Florida experience, that we need someone who knows Florida law and how to handle hurricanes and the like,” he said. “Well if that were the case then I wouldn’t be sitting here this evening. I was hired in Florida after 20 years in Colorado. I say hire a good manager first no matter where he or she comes from. Anyone worth their salt can learn Florida law and how to handle hurricanes instead of blizzards.”
Between the time Coward leaves at the end of May and his replacement begins work sometime this summer, somebody has to run the city and Coward recommended to the commission that it be a shared position. He proposed that Public Works Director Dean Scharmen be the interim city manager responsible for the Public Works side of the operation and the 30 employees who work there, while Finance Director Dan Carpenter is appointed assistant interim manager responsible for financial matters and the 10 staff members who actually work in City Hall. The commission unanimously endorsed the recommendations. Both men will receive an extra $1,000 a month during the time they have to carry out those duties.
City to negotiate better contract
The city recently was awarded a $78,000 grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to install a new stormwater treatment device. The trouble is will they get to spend it.
The city planned to install the device at the Sixth Avenue Basin Area. However when contractors’ bids came back they exceeded the maximum allowed for the project, which was $156,000. The closest bid was $177,000 from Kloote Contracting of Palm Harbor.
Commissioners had to formally reject the bids, which cleared the way for them to negotiate with Kloote to get them down close to the permitted amount. Otherwise the city will have to return the grant and cancel the project.
Community Garden expenses
The bills are all in and the new Community Garden in the Nature Preserve costs $9,000. City Manager Coward presented a breakdown to the commission, which showed the civic group, Action 2000, paid more than $5,000 of the total cost; the city paid the rest or did work amounting to the remainder.
Mayor R.B. Johnson said he was impressed with the facility while Coward reported that two more grow boxes were sold. Residents can buy a grow box from the city and plant their herbs or vegetables in a plot in the garden.
Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin, the main proponent of the garden, said she expects increased community interest in the fall when the Florida growing season begins.
Mayor Johnson reminded Commissioners that the annual Bluegrass Festival is taking place on Saturday, May 18, 3 to 10 p.m. The event, sponsored by the Beach Art Center, is being held in Kolb Park and features three bands this year.