BELLEAIR — It’s been a rocky couple of months at Belleair Town Hall, as a rash of staff departures led to the Town Commission’s decision to conduct a study of the workplace culture, a move that ultimately triggered the sudden resignation of Town Manager JP Murphy on April 15.

After that impromptu meeting was called, Belleair Police Chief Rick Doyle was appointed interim town manager and things have begun to stabilize, according to officials.

On May 3, Doyle drew kudos for the progress he’s made, along with a bump in pay while handling the dual leadership roles.

“Chief, the impact you have made on the streets in the last two weeks has been amazing,” Commissioner Coleen Chaney said, citing some tree-trimming work in particular.

Doyle said he’s compiled a checklist of priorities to address while he holds down the fort and commissioners unanimously agreed to give Doyle a $6,000 monthly pay boost for as long as he holds the interim position. During a subsequent discussion, the board agreed to use a multipronged approach for conducting the search for Murphy’s successor.

“We can conduct an internal search working through HR and compiling a job description, with input from commissioners, which will then be posted to LinkedIn, Indeed, the national searches so we can open it up to everybody,” management analyst Ashley Bernal said.

She said a second option would be to use a recruitment firm, which “could get pricey very quickly,” noting her research found the cost could approach or even exceed $25,000.

When Chaney asked if she was confident that they could handle an in-house search, Bernal replied, “I think that it would be beneficial, yes, based on the collective experience and especially with Rick Doyle leading it.”

Doyle has an extensive business background, including having a master’s degree in human resources and management and a tenure as senior vice president at Aetna and Humana.

“We’re not sure if we’re going to get people locally who are like, ‘Hey, that’s a great area, a great job, I want to come there,’ and leave their existing job,” he said. “But I don’t want to wait 30 to 60 days until we have an application or a resume coming in.”

During public comments, resident Estelle DeMuesy noted neighboring community Belleair Beach was also looking for a new city manager. But Town Attorney Jay Daigneault said he didn’t believe that would be a factor in Belleair’s search.

“I think the Belleair job is going to be an attractive one,” said Daigneault, who lives in Belleair. “So, I don’t think you’re going to have trouble sourcing quality candidates.”

The commission ultimately agreed to begin by conducting the search in-house, with Mayor Mike Wilkinson stating he wanted them to establish the parameters, including job description and salary range. Doyle said there is a template in place, “and our plan is to refine it.”

Meantime, Doyle asked the board to adjust the upcoming meeting schedule to allow him to get caught up.

“We’ve talked about it, and it would be helpful to have one meeting a month at least through the summer, so we can get some of this stuff done,” he said, and the commission agreed to meet on June 7, July 19, and Aug. 16, before going back to the normal first-and-third-Tuesday schedule in September.

Doyle joined the Belleair Police Department in 2007 and was sworn in as chief in November 2018.

“All of us want to do what’s right for our residents, have a safe community and safe streets,” Wilkinson said. “Hopefully, a new town manager can come in and help us with that.”

Regarding the current atmosphere at Town Hall following some previous turmoil, the mayor said he believed things were headed in the right direction. 

“I’ve been going there more than I normally do, and from my perspective my sense is that I don’t see a cultural issue,” he said. “I just don’t see it. If it comes out, we still have a lingering cultural issue we need to address, we’ll address it. But I think staff is reacting in a positive way to Chief Doyle, and he’s seen a positive reaction from staff and is getting things done for the residents. And that’s what it’s all about.”