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ST. PETE BEACH - The next two weeks are going to be busy ones for city commissioners as they choose an executive search firm to attract and whittle down resumes from applicants wanting to be St. Pete Beach’s next city manager.

In October 2014, City Manager Wayne Saunders, who was longtime city manager of Clermont, followed by a stint as finance director in Port Orange, replaced former city manager Mike Bonfield; Saunders was given a year-to-year contract to manage St. Pete Beach.

In July, city commissioners awarded Saunders a contract renewal and an 8 percent salary increase from $152,250 to $164,430. His contract is for an unspecified term, with a requirement that he notify the city 120 days before he wants to leave office.

Mayor Al Johnson said in a phone interview Oct. 10 it was during the last round of budget hearings that commissioners first got wind that Saunders, 69, planned to retire.

Johnson recalled that he noticed the city manager reorganized top staff and appointed Administrative Services Director Vincent Tenaglia as assistant city manager; Saunders also gave Tenaglia direct charge of the fire and recreation departments and told commissioners of his plans.

Tenaglia worked four years as a management analyst in Largo before being hired by Madeira Beach as finance director in 2012; he was subsequently named that city’s assistant city manager from 2014 to 2017, and joined St. Pete Beach as administrative services director in 2017.

The mayor said “it is no surprise that Saunders planned to retire. He has family in Clermont and I knew he wanted to be closer to them and spend more time with them. I kept asking him how long he planned to stay.”

During his tenure, Johnson said, Saunders has done a great job organizing big construction projects and making sure the city has a vehicle refurbishment plan in place. He brought Mike Clarke on board as public works director, and they made sewer system improvements that reduced rainwater intrusion into the city’s system by 8 percent, which calculates into a big savings.

Johnson said the city manager’s contract requires 120 days’ notice, but he gave the city 180 days, and is willing to stay on a little longer as a consultant if the city needs him.

During the Oct. 19 regular session, Saunders told commissioners a committee of senior staff narrowed the number of executive search firm applicants from nine to the top three.

City commissioners decided to hold two special work sessions on Tuesday, Oct. 16, and Tuesday, Oct. 23, both starting at 4 p.m., to decide on a search firm.

Commissioner Terri Finnerty said she would like to interview the search firm candidates.

Commissioner Melinda Pletcher told fellow commissioners she felt left out of the process.

“I talked to the city clerk because I wanted to find out why we hadn’t gotten anything into our inboxes. I didn’t get an update,” she said.

“A couple of things, I’m very concerned about at this point, is I want to be a part of this process and the decision making about how this process moves forward. Three staffers reviewed (search firm candidates), none of which was us, none of which was the city manager, and I don’t know how that decision ended up, but I know that I wasn’t part of that decision making,” the commissioner said.

“I would have liked all nine of (the applications) to come to our inbox. Somewhere along the line we haven’t been part of this process yet and I want to make sure that moving forward from this point on that we are absolutely a part of the process. I do want to look at the nine of them,” Pletcher told commissioners and staff.

Mayor Johnson said he talked the city manager about the process and read the applicant proposals, “thinking the manager talked to everyone as well but obviously he had not.”

Saunders told commissioners the city followed the same process as it does with all requests for proposals, which is for staff to review all the proposals and choose the top three to present to the commission.

According to International City Manager Association regulations, Saunders told commissioners, “I’m staying out of this, but we can follow any procedure you would like.”

Commissioner Rick Falkenstein said he likes what staff did in selecting the top three.

Pletcher added she is concerned that the city will be going into an election in March and she does not want the choice to be politicized. “I want to make sure it is not an issue.”

Johnson said he believes the city can have a new manager on board by March, hopefully before the municipal election Tuesday, March 12. Commission seats for District 4 held by Pletcher and District 2 served by Falkenstein are up for election.

According to the request for proposals, “the firm selected will review current compensation and recommend changes based upon market and competitive conditions. The search firm will then recruit the maximum number of candidates who qualify based upon the approved position profile. The selected search firm will be required to provide a list of qualified candidates to the city within 60 days of contract approval.”

Johnson said the commission still plans to conduct the city manager’s yearly review, which will include a discussion of a salary increase later this month, since Saunders will be with the city until March.

In other news

• Commissioners voted unanimously to permit Speed Boat Adventures at Pass-A-Grille Marina, 1901 Pass-A-Grille Way, to add eight additional tour boats to their fleet, bringing the total to 11.

Commissioners granted a conditional use modification to allow for expansion of the commercial water sports attraction. Under the terms, the maximum number of passengers on each boat is limited to six. Boats are prohibited from running their engines from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and cannot be equipped with bullhorn speaker. In addition, use of Jet Ski rental and similar personal watercraft is prohibited and charter boats cannot be live-aboard.

• City commissioners also decided to extend free parking at city beach access areas and let staff decide whether to reinstate the fees after red tide has passed.