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City looks far, picks manager who's near

The city, which lost its manager to St. Pete Beach, continues a trend of beach towns hiring candidates who know the area.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA and AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 20, 2002


MADEIRA BEACH -- Commissioners flew in city manager candidates from as far away as California, but when the time came to select one, they looked no farther than the city's back yard.

Jim Madden, 51, a Madeira Beach resident and former city manager of Pinellas Park, is their top pick. Four commissioners said Madden was their first choice of the four candidates they interviewed. One said Madden was his last choice.

"That's just the opposite of the way I voted. Just the opposite," said Commissioner Charles Parker.

Madden's hiring continues the trend along the beaches of seeking out candidates who already know the area and can hit the ground running in their new jobs. Madden replaces former Manager Mike Bonfield, who left his post for the same job in St. Pete Beach after commissioners there said they wanted someone familiar with local issues.

"I live here," Madden said Monday during interviews with the commission. "I'm a resident and I have an investment in the community. I really don't see myself going anywhere until the Vikings come and put me on a boat and sail it." Madden was unavailable Tuesday for reaction to his selection.

In advertisements for the job, Madeira Beach said it would pay the city manager $60,000 to $75,000 annually. Robert Chambers, a consultant who headed the city's search for a new manager, will negotiate the salary with Madden.

Madden's last job as a top administrator was in Pinellas Park, where he had a 21-year career before the City Council fired him abruptly in July 1997.

When the commission asked during his public interview Monday whether he ever had "difficulty" with elected officials (one of the standard interview questions asked of all candidates), Madden's face turned a bright red.

He said he had been completely surprised when the Pinellas Park council fired him.

"I had heard rumors the day before, but wasn't able to confirm anything. I was never given a reason other than the staff wasn't getting along with me at the time. That was true," Madden said.

He went on to explain that he was involved in an investigation of the Police Department that was "pretty deep and painful." He said he found "several big skeletons" that were "creating big problems for the police chief."

Previously, Madden had questioned a city audit that neglected to list a $1-million liability and had disagreed with the city's finance director over how to handle the situation.

Madden said he was able to recover $800,000 in uncollected code enforcement debts and brought most cases into compliance.

"I have a unique way of looking at things," said Madden. "I always try to have a fall-back position or an innovative way (of solving issues)."

He later worked for Largo, where he was responsible for annexing property valued at $256-million into the city. He now is a licensed real estate broker and works at a firm owned by Pinellas Park council member Rick Butler.

Madden was invited to apply for the Madeira Beach city manager position by Chambers, the consultant.

"City government is a service organization, and we need to provide the best possible service we can," Madden told the commission, adding that he is quick to return telephone calls and reply to correspondence.

Madden said he values staff opinions "very highly" and likes to develop a consensus. "I am a firm believer in teamwork. There is not anything that I've done when it hasn't depended on someone else," he said.

He was closely involved in creating and implementing Pinellas Park's comprehensive plan and redevelopment of the Park Boulevard corridor between U.S. 19 and 66th Street. "Master planning is very similar. It just involves some different strategies," he said.

Noting that Madeira Beach is largely built-out, Madden said redevelopment will be a major issue in coming years. "You have the ability to determine the flavor of this community for the future," he said. "There is nothing to stop whatever direction you want to go."

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