Commissioners consider city manager recommendation

Holmes Beach ad hoc David
Holmes Beach Ad Hoc Committee Chair David Cheshire presents the committee’s findings to city commissioners. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Ad Hoc Committee members recommending a city manager form of government wasn’t a surprise to nearly three dozen community members and city commissioners.

Committee members David Cheshire and Terry Schaffer gave the official recommendation from the committee to commissioners recently, recommending a change to a form of government where a city manager is the administrative head of city staff instead of the mayor. The change would require a change to the city’s charter. To change the charter, the measure has to go through either City Commission approvals or the Charter Review Committee to be placed on the ballot for the next election, or a special election has to be called. Ultimately, it’s up to the voters to decide what they want their form of government to be.

When announcing the recommendation, Cheshire said the committee felt a city manager would be better able to provide stability in city government for staff and residents than a mayor who may or may not have any experience leading a city, especially one with the complex issues of Holmes Beach. Turnover in the mayor’s office also can be as fast as every two years, depending on the will of the voters and who runs for office.

Holmes Beach ad hoc Terry
Ad-hoc committee member Terry Schaffer gives by-the-number details on how members arrived at their recommendation for a city manager. – Kristin Swain | Sun

Schaffer expounded on Cheshire’s opening to the presentation, adding that out of the cities polled by committee members, the numbers were in favor of a city manager form of government.

Committee members submitted 19 questions to the leadership of 30 different Florida cities. Answers were scored by participants on a 1 to 5 point basis. Once the answers were given to committee members, they were combined to provide an overall effectiveness score. A city manager-led form of government became the committee’s recommendation because it received the highest score at 83 percent, followed by a commission and city administrator form of government at 71 percent.

Committee member Scott Boyd made the case for a city administrator, a role that could be added without changing the city’s charter. Of the eight Ad Hoc Committee members, Boyd was the only one who voted against recommending a city manager form of government.

A city administrator would report to the mayor but also could help lead day-to-day activities in city administration. The principal role of a city administrator would be to help commissioners formulate policy, supervise department heads and work with the treasurer to develop the annual budget. A city administrator can be appointed by the mayor or commission. By contrast, a city manager would have the ability to hire and fire department heads, manage department heads, help create and administer the budget and have an integral role in developing policy along with commissioners. A city manager could be hired by a majority vote of commissioners.

Boyd said the Ad Hoc Committee members all agreed that professional administrative support is needed in the city but he felt that it was more prudent to start with an administrator and see if professional leadership works well and if more was needed before changing the city charter to hire a city manager. He made the point that if the voters agree to a charter change it would take another charter change to reverse the decision if it was decided a city manager-led government wasn’t working for Holmes Beach.

Commissioner Judy Titsworth said she’s more in favor of a city administrator and providing necessary changes to the city government in degrees versus making a charter change at this time, though she does agree that it might be necessary at some point in the future.

“I’m concerned this is such a huge charter change,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for the charter as it sits.” She added that she’s not ready to give up on being able to find “good, civic-minded people” to lead the city who live in Holmes Beach and who know the city, its residents and their concerns. She said she’s also concerned with “jeopardizing the jobs of our very qualified staff.”

One part of the committee’s recommendation is to allow staff members a one-year contract to prove their worth to the city manager after which the manager could either extend their contracts or bring in other staff to fill the positions.

“I’m not sold on a city manager at all but what I needed was to see how it really works,” Commissioner Carol Soustek said, thanking committee members for doing the “homework” for her.

“It’s not just our decision up here. We listen to the people out there too,” she said, adding that she hopes community members come out to voice their opinions when the matter comes back for commission discussion on a future work session agenda.

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