LARGO — If city commissioners should ever decide to name a building in the community after Henry Schubert, the question may be, which one?
Schubert, Largo's city manager since 2016 and a city employee since 1980, is retiring June 30. As the former assistant city manager and in other positions, he is credited for having a leadership role in the establishment of the Largo Public Library, Largo Community Center, Highland Recreation Center, the Central Park Performing Arts Center and, most recently, plans for Horizon West Bay, which includes a new City Hall.
The primary reason the 42-year Largo employee is retiring is that when he took the job as city manager, he promised himself he wouldn't work into his 70s. He will be 69 in March.
“There is no reason to leave in the sense that everything's going great here,” Schubert said. "I love this community. I love the job. I have a great City Commission to work with. Great staff. It's time to leave when things are going very well.”
Seeing projects come to fruition gives him the most satisfaction as a city official.
“One of the advantages of working in a place for this long as I have is to get to be here from the very beginning of a project all the way through to the opening and the operation of a project. Not everybody has that experience,” Schubert said.
Schubert began work with the city in 1980 in the planning department and has also served as acting fire chief, city clerk, and in the city's budget office. He served as assistant city manager for more than 22 years before being named city manager.
As far as retirement goes, Schubert, who is married and lives in Largo, said he has no great plans.
“I'm not planning on moving, because I like this community,” he said. “So I plan on staying here for the foreseeable future. It's going to be nice to have more free time to relax more. My wife (Dorothy) and I want to do some traveling. I'm going to figure out from there on what to do. I'm certainly not going to retire in the sense of just sitting around and doing nothing.”
He doesn't expect to sit on any advisory boards for the city.
“I don't think it's appropriate for a retired city manager to sit on an advisory board. I think there needs to be that separation. I would never want to be in the situation where I'm questioning what my successor may be doing,” Schubert said.
Asked what he believes the greatest challenge facing Largo, Schubert said that it's being able to recruit and retain people in an environment where living costs are skyrocketing.
The success of any organization is finding the right people, he said.
“And as a city government we can only afford to pay so much in salaries and benefits and competing with other governments and competing with private business and again the cost of living keeps going up around here," he said.
Asked how a new City Hall will improve city government, Schubert said the Horizon West Bay project, which is designed as a mixed-use project with retail space, City Hall, and a parking garage, is "not just a building for bureaucrats, which is why we gave it the name for Horizon."
But, specifically, from the city employees standpoint, city officials are going to be providing modern work space for them that is going to be designed to encourage collaboration, he said.
"I think if you have a higher quality workplace, it's one of the things you can use to retain employees. It shows you value employees because you provide them a high-quality workspace. It's not just a building. It's the overall ambiance of the facility. Beyond that, the whole issue of Horizon was that it is also a tremendous economic development tool for our downtown," Schubert said.
On other topics, such as why he was interested in a career in local government, Shubert said he felt more comfortable pursuing a career that's more professional than political.
"In government, you are really making the community a better place. It's about public service. I believe very strongly in the role of government. We're certainly not here to correct all the world's problems. And we certainly can't do a whole lot of things by ourselves. We need to be partners with other governments, the nonprofit sector and other private businesses and everything," he said.
In February, city officials will begin the search for an executive recruitment firm to conduct a nationwide search to identify the most qualified candidates seeking to be the next city manager.
Praise for Shubert
In a statement, Mayor Woody Brown congratulated Schubert, on his “impressive tenure with the city.”
Said Brown: “He has witnessed significant transformation and growth in Largo and has directly made our community a better place to live, work and play. I couldn't be happier with the amazing progress Largo has seen in the seven years since Mr. Schubert took the role of city manager. His administrative leadership has inspired and empowered our team members at all levels.”
City commissioners continue to give Shubert high marks on their evaluations of him. They voted in March 2022 to increase his annual salary to $224,743.
Another longtime city employee, City Clerk Diane Bruner, recalled that Schubert was the project manager for the newest Largo Library, which opened in 2005.
"That project just checked every box that it was intended to check," Bruner said. "It's still a great community asset."
She said Schubert is “very visionary.”
"He has a vision of what he wants for our new building to be and what it will mean to the city as a whole, but also downtown and the people who are going to work in it," she said.
For many years, Schubert was the city's labor relations manager, she said, overseeing negotiation with unions over contracts.
“And I know that involved a lot of discussion and compromise. And that always seemed to go very well even when it took a while for the two sides to come to an agreement. So he was really good with working with people," Bruner said.
Asked how he was able to be a high-ranking administrator in Largo for so many years, Schubert said that one of the reasons is simply that he listens, calling that trait important.
“I think I have a good understanding of where the city commissioners sit on issues,” he said. “And I'm one of those people who is very much I guess a moderate, which is sometimes a lonely place to be any more. But I can see the middle ground on things. I can see all the opposing views and in the vast majority of cases I don't seen anyone being absolutely right or absolutely wrong so I'm always looking for that middle ground to try to develop something that is acceptable to the broadest range of people."
Schubert praised city commissioners and two mayors he has worked with.
“I can't tell you how blessed I've been to have such a wonderful City Commission since the time I've been city manager. This has really been a great group of people. You don't see the discord that you see in a lot of other communities," Schubert said.
Commissioners in some case have different perspectives, but they work well together, Schubert said.
"Part of that is due to the mayor we have,” he said. “I think Mayor Brown does a wonderful job and certainly Pat Gerard before him as well. And I always feel good about going to a City Commission meeting — not every city manager can say that that.”
Bruner said she can't imagine anyone knowing more about the city than Schubert does.
"We're losing a lot of institutional knowledge," Bruner said. "Thank God we all have his phone number."