PINELLAS PARK – City Manager Michael Gustafson is one step closer to choosing his successor.
When Gustafson first announced in April that he would retire within the year, he also announced that Doug Lewis, the city’s fire chief, and Capt. Mike Haworth, the police department’s second in command, share the role of co-interim assistant city manager while vying for the city manager position permanently.
Though this outside-the-box approach was initially supposed to be an eight-month process, Gustafson has chosen between the two after just four months. Lewis will stay on as interim assistant city manager, while Haworth will return to the police force. A final decision on whether Lewis will be offered the position will come in December, Gustafson said. He hopes to retire in January, but could remain with the city until March.
“Both were very qualified for the job,” Gustafson said, “but it came down to chemistry with the [City] Council.”
Lewis is more laidback and easygoing, he said, making him a better fit with the current council members.
“He’s got a relaxed personality,” Gustafson said. “He doesn’t come in and intimidate you. That made the decision a little easier.”
But he stresses that he holds Haworth in high esteem.
“Michael impressed the hell out of me,” Gustafson said. “He jumped in with both feet. It really just came down to the chemistry. He definitely can be a city manager in the future, or a police chief, whatever he wants to be. But the timing isn’t right with this current council.”
Chief Dorene Thomas is set to retire in 2015. Gustafson said Haworth would likely be the primary contender for the position.
Tim Caddell, government spokesperson for the city, said that both being city manager and working in fire service require a customer service-oriented attitude that should make the transition easier.
Following Gustafson’s decision, Lewis is working more closely with all department heads, and getting up to speed on building, zoning and planning codes.
Initially, Lewis expressed an interest in eventually becoming assistant city manager to Gustafson about a year after joining the Pinellas Park Fire Department in 2004. After that, the pair met weekly to discuss non-fire-related issues in the city.
“I grew up here in Pinellas Park and I’ve seen a lot of growth,” Lewis said. “I attended Pinellas Park Elementary School and Junior High School. I’ve seen the changes in the city from the 1950s to the community it is today.”
He feels this first-hand knowledge of Pinellas Park both then and now makes him the best choice for leading the city into the future.
Lewis, who lives in Kenneth City, began his fire service career in 1975 with the St. Petersburg Fire Department. He started as a firefighter/EMT and retired in 2002 as chief of the Rescue Division. That same year he was hired to be fire chief of Polk County.
Gustafson began his career with the city 23 years ago as a senior trades inspector. He was then promoted to building division director, community development administrator, assistant city manager and finally, city manager, a position he’s held for the past 10 years.
The city also will lose Assistant City Manager Tom Shevlin when he retires in October.