BELLEAIR BEACH — The City Council has selected a city manager after one of two finalists for the position withdrew from contention as the council was set to conduct in-person interviews.
The council scheduled a special meeting on July 28 to interview the candidates and make its final selection. The winner would then move into negotiations for a contract to become the city’s next chief executive.
Council members were expecting to choose between the top two candidates: Bob Daniels, former city manager of Madeira Beach, and Ken Griffin, a professional engineer with extensive management experience in government service. Daniels had been in contention for several local city manager jobs in recent months only to lose out when the final selection was made.
This time, he made the choice.
Mayor Dave Gattis opened the meeting by informing council members that Daniels said he had accepted another position “closer to home” on Florida’s east coast and was withdrawing from the race. That left Griffin as the only finalist.
Despite him being the sole candidate, a yes-or-no vote favoring him was a close one, a 4-to-3 split decision by the council.
Daniels and Griffin had been named as finalists at a special meeting the previous week, when the choices were reduced from four to two. Among those not making the cut at that time was Kyle Riefler, who is already on staff at Belleair Beach as interim city manager and had been considered a favorite to win the job.
At that meeting, where the council as a group interviewed each of the four candidates via Zoom, there was wide support for both Daniels and Griffin. Several council members commented that Griffin’s professional engineering background would be extremely helpful in managing the city’s ongoing flood control and roadway improvement projects.
Griffin, who is currently working as a consulting engineer at a firm in Tampa, said during the interview that most of his career has been in municipal work, which he “loves doing.” In the recent past, he was assistant county administrator in Hillsborough County in charge of public works and other areas.
“I love the opportunity to make the city better,” Griffin said. “What makes me happy is to implement your visions for the city, and see our citizens enjoy those benefits, as the things they’ve asked for are achieved.” He said he understood this was a hands-on job, “and I’m very comfortable with that.”
Council member Lloyd Roberts, himself an engineer, said he thought the interview with Griffin “went exceedingly well, and I am confident he can do the job.” Council member Mike Zabel also noted Griffin’s “strong engineering background, and the leadership needed to get things done.”
Another strong supporter of Griffin was council member Glenn Gunn, who had requested Griffin’s name be included when the initial list of top candidates was being created. Gunn said he found Griffin to be very educated and well-spoken. Gunn added that he was “not that concerned” about Griffin’s salary being higher than what the city was planning to pay.
“He is well qualified for the job, and will be a good return on our investment in him,” Gunn said.
Council member Leslie Notaro said she did have a problem with Griffin’s salary range, adding, “His strength is as an engineer, and we are not hiring an engineer.”
That view was also expressed by council member Jody Shirley, who said, “We appreciate your experience and knowledge, and I’m sure we’ll pull from that quite a bit, but we should not be relying on you for engineering because that’s not what you’re hired for.”
Later in the meeting Shirley said, “I would be in favor of going back out to the community, and hiring a professional (recruiter) to help us seek a city manager that can meet the needs of our city.”
Council member Frank Bankard was also opposed to selecting Griffin.
At the start of the city manager search process, Bankard had proposed simply hiring from within, choosing Riefler without doing a further search. The other council members said advertising to fill the job was the responsible thing to do, with Riefler also included as a strong candidate.
The 4-3 vote selecting Griffin included Gattis, Gunn, Roberts and Zabel voting yes, with negative votes from Bankard, Notaro and Shirley.
Gattis stressed that the vote in favor of Griffin “does not mean we are hiring him tonight.”
“We are voting to move us into a negotiation process. (Griffin) is not officially hired until he and the city reach a workable agreement,” the mayor said.