Commission split over city manager

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HOLMES BEACH — Commissioners are on both sides of the fence over whether or not to hire a city manager.

During a May 23 work session, members of a residents’ committee presented the pros and cons of hiring a manager.

For the residents, transitioning to a city manager form of government has primarily positive outcome scenarios, according to members of the committee.

“I wish I could say I found some negativity, but I didn’t,” resident and committee member Renae Ferguson said. “I think the results we got were enlightening to say the least.”

Ferguson reported that out of the 12 coastal cities spoken to, all were pleased with the results of having a city manager, versus only a mayor, to handle the day-to-day operations of the city. The reason was listed as the consistency a city manager provides.

Unlike a mayor, who faces re-election every two years, a city manager is a hired employee who is expected to be with the city long-term. City managers also are required to meet certain job qualifications whereas a mayor can be anyone who qualifies to run for office. In Holmes Beach, that means meeting a residency requirement and candidate paperwork deadlines.

If commissioners choose to pursue hiring a city manager, a mayor would still be elected every two years but would be responsible for oversight rather than the daily activities of city government.

Mayor Bob Johnson said he’s in favor of creating a city manager position to foster continuity for staff and residents after his current term expires.

Johnson previously announced he wouldn’t be seeking a third term as mayor. His current term expires November 2018.

Commissioner Carol Soustek agreed with Johnson.

“It’s a small city with big city problems,” she said of Holmes Beach. Soustek expressed concern that with a shrinking pool of residents, particularly those willing to take on the role of mayor, it may be time to consider revamping the city’s form of government.

“It’s not a choice up here anymore, it’s kind of a necessity to consider this,” she said.

Commissioner Judy Titsworth isn’t sure a city manager is the right move for Holmes Beach. She said she would like to see an election pass without a mayoral candidate stepping forward before she considers installing a city manager.

“If each charter position was hired as a competent team player to uphold the wishes of the commission through the mayor, our charter would work,” she said. At this time, Titsworth said she’s unwilling to expend the time and effort needed to review and change the city’s charter to accommodate a city manager position.

“I think you’re naïve about the charter,” Johnson said. “We have a good staff, that’s not the issue. The issue is stability. The city is suffering in a way it doesn’t need to.”

“This is definitely one thing that doesn’t need to be rushed,” Titsworth said.

Soustek recommended moving the discussion to the next work session for further contemplation by commissioners.

“Come back again,” she said to members of the residents’ committee. “It will be continued.”