Former Indian Rocks Beach City Manager Chuck Coward, left, and Mark Durbin of Kissimmee, members of the screening committee, listen to commissioners as they discuss choosing a new city manager.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – City commissioners have chosen a short list of seven candidates to be interviewed for the city manager position left vacant with the retirement of Chuck Coward.
Indian Rocks Beach Commissioners decided on the short list at a special meeting on May 29.
Of the candidates who will be invited for an interview, one is in-house; one is from out of state and the rest are applicants from Florida.
The process to select a new city manager began with a nationwide advertisement, which attracted 60 applicants from all over the country. Then a screening committee pared that number down to 12 and from that 12 the commissioners chose the seven to be interviewed.
Those are: Lisa Algiere, the city manager of Dunnellon; Robert Bartolotta, former city manager of Sarasota; Amy Davis, budget manager in Largo; Donald Hambridge, former assistant public works director in Gainesville: J.P. Murphy, assistant town manager in Belleair; Danny Taylor, director of planning and zoning in Indian Rocks Beach; and Greg Mims, planning director, Fairhope, Ala.
In the two and a half hour meeting to decide upon the candidates to be interviewed, commissioners asked questions of two of the members of the screening committee who were there, retiring City Manager Chuck Coward and Mark Durbin, a former city manager who represented the Range Rider organization, which is a group of retired city managers who voluntarily help municipalities choose city managers.
Both Coward and Durbin told the commissioners the candidates were all well-qualified.
“You have an excellent group of candidates,” said Coward.
He noted, however, that the interview process will shed more light on each of them.
“What we have here is a paper outline of who these people are,” he said as he held up a number of résumés. “When you get to talk to them more will come to light. Nobody is perfect; everybody has a little something lacking and that will be your job to find out what that is.”
Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin agreed.
“I put very little stock in the résumés,” she said. “People can look good on paper but can surprise you when you meet them. The interview is important; I’ll reserve my judgment until after the interviews.”
The most vocal of the commissioners in expressing what he wanted in a new city Manager was Mayor R.B. Johnson, who made it clear what he didn’t want was a person who had to be trained on the job.
“Do we want to take a chance on a young person? I would say we proceed with caution in that direction,” he said. “I don’t think we should hire someone who needs training wheels. I want somebody who can push back, not a yes-man.”
Commissioner Cookie Kennedy had a different viewpoint.
“I think we’re all good judges of character,” she said. “I looked for somebody new as long as they had good qualifications as an assistant city manager.”
Commissioner Phil Hanna said he had specific things in mind as he chose his short list.
“I’m looking for someone with a good background in public service,” he said. “I want someone with good communication skills and someone who fits our budget.”
The salary of the successful candidate will be somewhere between $95,000 and $105,000 a year. That fact raised a discussion over whether or not candidates who make considerably more than that would be willing to accept a lower pay scale.
Coward said he spoke to each candidate and reminded them of the pay scale and all said they were fine with it. Durbin said he had no worries on that score.
“These are all honorable people and if they weren’t prepared to accept the pay then I’m sure they would decline an interview,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Labadie, the newest member of the commission, said the entire process was new to him.
“This is my first time doing something like this,” he said. “I’m looking for that inner person, not somebody who is selling me a bill of goods. We have to remember this is one of the sweetest towns on the planet.”
Coward reminded the commissioners that they should keep that thought in mind as they go about choosing his successor. He said they should be constantly selling the city at every step.
“Right now with all these candidates you hold all the cards,” he said. “But remember when you get down to the one person you want, that person will be holding all the cards. So when you make that person an offer you don’t want him or her saying no thanks. You have to make them want to come here.”
Commissioners decided to hold a full day of interviews on Tuesday, June 18. And they concluded the last meeting at which Chuck Coward took part. In thanking Coward, who has held the position for nearly five years, Kennedy said he has paved the way for his successor.
“Whoever takes over here will find it a piece of cake,” she said.
To which Mayor Johnson injected a note of caution: “But things can change; they can go sour in a hurry.”
The final word went to Ranger Rider Durbin, who left the commissioners with a positive note.
“I am impressed with the quality of candidates,” he said. “Whoever you choose, you will be in good shape.”