Divided commission picks Madeira Beach city manager

Anthony J. Carson Jr. most recently served as city manager of Forney, Texas.

MADEIRA BEACH — The city commission has picked a new city manager. At a special meeting on Nov. 22, the sharply divided commission chose Anthony J. Carson Jr., most recently city manager of Forney, Texas, as the city’s new chief executive.

The vote was 3 to 2 on a motion by Commissioner Helen “Happy” Price to hire Carson. There was no ranking of candidates this time. Commissioners Doug Andrews and Dave Hutson joined Price in voting for Carson. Mayor John Hendricks and Commissioner Nancy Hodges were opposed.

Carson had been a last-minute addition when the semi-finalist candidates list was narrowed to six, added at the request of Price, who said she was surprised no one else had considered him. He had a number of advantages, Price said, including both public and private work experience, and a coastal town background. Also, his resume said his number one goal was customer satisfaction.

Carson later made the top-three candidate list.

But Carson’s selection as city manager was also preceded by controversy. Resident Brenda Boyd said she had done research on the three finalists after reading about them in the Beach Beacon.

“I found (Carson) had a history of controversies,” she said, including accusations of mismanagement of CARES Act funding for COVID relief, and also that he “drove a wedge into that community by firing the city’s police chief in retaliation for the toxic work environment Mr. Carson created and the police chief complained about.”

Boyd said, “I’ve lived here for more than six years, and I’d really like to see somebody who brings our city together, and doesn’t bring more controversy to this city that’s been through so much already.”

The city commissioners also had received an anonymous email critical of Carson.

But Hutson said he had talked to references in Texas who were complimentary of his performance. Andrews said he makes it a practice to judge people on his own and does not pay attention to anonymous emails or blogs.

“We need to make sure we’re weighing the scales out and giving everybody the benefit of the doubt. Some of these things may be true, some of them may not be true. We should at least look at it and base most of our opinion on our interaction with the person,” said Andrews.

Hutson, Andrews and Price all said they were completely satisfied with what the references said about Carson.

“I don’t take anonymous emails seriously,” Price said. “I thought Mr. Carson had everything it takes to run this town. He’s run towns that are three or four times larger than Madeira Beach. He’s been successful everywhere,” she said, adding she thought Carson would take a “fresh look at things.”

Hendricks, who voted no on Carson, said, “I kind of wish we had just checked the boxes on these,” using a ranked method as they had in the past. He brought up the idea of trying to get a unanimous vote on one of the other candidates, but City Attorney Thomas Trask said the vote on Carson already passed 3 to 2.

Hendricks said one of the problems he had with Carson was that he did not have coastal experience, but Andrews said Carson had worked in Delaware on the coast and had handled such things as hurricane evacuations.

“(Carson) is an energetic guy too, and I think he will be a really, really good fit with our staff,” Andrews said.

A motion was made to select a second choice for city manager, in case contract negotiations with Carson do not work out. Robin Ignacio Gomez, who worked for the city of Clearwater as an auditor for 15 years, was chosen as the backup in a 3 to 2 vote, with the same split as the Carson vote.

The other candidate of the final three was Leonard Brown Sossamon, Jr., a former county administrator of Hernando County, Florida.

Price will be handling the contract negotiations with Carson. At the time of the meeting, it was not known exactly when Carson would be able to start.

In order to provide continuity from current City Manager Bob Daniels, who is on a month-to-month contract, the commission voted to have Trask prepare another one-month extension to Daniels’ contract. It would go from Dec. 3 through Jan. 2. That contract will be voted on at a special meeting on Dec. 1.