MADEIRA BEACH — The city commission has taken another step in what has been a long and difficult search for a new city manager, narrowing the top choices from 6 to 3.

The finalists were chosen at the Nov. 10 City Commission meeting, following interviews in person and by Zoom with the candidates.

Commission members were clearly impressed with the candidates they had to choose from this time.

“In this group of applicants, we actually got superior candidates from what we got the last time around,” said Mayor John Hendricks.

Commissioner Doug Andrews acknowledged that some candidates lacked Florida coastal experience, but he said all of them were well qualified, and he particularly valued their leadership abilities.

“I think we’re going to be able to go in and choose somebody that’s the right fit for our staff and for our city,” Andrews said.

The top three city manager choices are Anthony J. Carson, Jr. of Texas, Robin Ignacio Gomez from Georgia, and Leonard Brown Sossamon Jr. from South Carolina. Carson and Gomez were picked by four of the five commissioners. Three selected Sossamon.

Carson was a last-minute addition to the semifinalist list of six last month. At that time, the commissioners were choosing which candidates out of the 15 that submitted resumes would be on the interview list.

Only Commissioner Helen “Happy” Price had included Carson as a top choice for that list. Price had said she was surprised no one else picked him, saying he had a number of advantages, including both public and private work experience, and a coastal town background. Also, she noted his resume said his number one goal was customer satisfaction.

After Price’s comments, Andrews had said he took another look at Carson’s resume and was willing to interview him. The commission agreed to include Carson on the list of six. Now, after the first round of interviews, Carson is a favorite on the top-three list.

Carson’s most recent job was city manager of Forney, Texas, one of the fastest growing cities in the state, according to his resume.

Gomez is city manager of Clarkston, Georgia in the Atlanta metro area. He worked as city auditor for the city of Clearwater from 1999 to 2015.

Third on the finalist list, Sossamon was recently interim city manager in Port Richey, and was county administrator of Hernando County from 2012 to 2019. He is currently in South Carolina, working as a consultant.

Hendricks said Sossamon’s salary requirement of $175,000 could be a problem, as that is far higher than the $135,000 offered by Madeira Beach.

“We’ll talk to him about the salary, see what he says, and go from there,” said Price.

The three finalists will be brought in during the week of Nov. 15 for another round of interviews before commissioners make the city manager selection.

Charter changes headed to ballot

The commission approved putting several charter amendments on the ballot next March that will, if approved by the voters, make it easier for city residents to run for mayor or commissioner.

One of the proposed changes reduces the amount of time a candidate is required to live in the city before running for office from two years to one. Also, 25 candidate petition forms signed by qualified voters will be required to run, down from 100 currently.

Price said the reason the charter changes are being proposed is make it easier to run for local office.

“We want to get more people, and hopefully younger people, involved in local politics,” she said.