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Dunedin selects an interim manager

The assistant city manager will be in charge while commissioners find a permanent replacement.

Published January 7, 2006

DUNEDIN - Maureen Freaney will take over management of the city when City Manager John Lawrence retires Jan. 17 - at least for the next few months.

The 49-year-old assistant city manager officially becomes interim city manager on Jan. 18.

In the process, Commissioners Dave Eggers and Bob Hackworth, who have been at odds with other commissioners on how the search for a new city manager should be conducted, got something in return: an expanded recruiting process for Lawrence's permanent replacement.

Freaney sat in for Lawrence during the commission meeting Thursday night and listened while the panel of five debated whether she should be named interim city manager, given that she plans to apply for the permanent position.

At times the discussion became heated.

"It's all part of the democratic process," Freaney said Friday. "Everyone has different opinions, and they are all trying to do the right things for the citizens."

In the meantime, she said, "My focus will be on keeping things moving in a proactive manner and maintaining the quality level of services that our residents are accustomed to."

When asked to compare Lawrence's management style with her own, she said they both believe in "hiring excellent people and letting them do what they do well."

But, she added, "My style is more hands-on. I believe in setting goals and key target dates. I like to work as a team and make sure that we are heading in the right direction."

She said the future city manager will need to nurture relationships with county officials, citizen groups, the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce and the downtown merchants association, among others.

It's a skill that chamber volunteer Ted Napp said is Freaney's forte.

"She's very involved with the community," he said after the commission meeting. "She's interested. She knows what's going on and what the citizens want. Lots of citizens are behind her."

Eggers and Hackworth indicated in the meeting that they did not object to Freaney but wanted to see the biggest and best pool of candidates possible. They argued that Freaney, as the interim city manager, could put off other potential candidates.

"We should have an interim city manager that is not going to be a candidate," Eggers said.

Eggers had requested that Nancy Duggan, the city's human resources director, gather opinions from outside experts to see whether the presence of an interim city manager who was also a candidate for the position would deter other applicants.

Half the experts said that was standard practice. The others said it could potentially limit the field.

Vice Mayor Julie Scales said she didn't believe that would be the case.

"I am confident we will have an abundance of candidates," she said.

Commissioner Deborah Kynes said the commission has already protected itself against any perception of bias, including asking Duggan to report directly to the commission and consult with a panel of other city managers to select the best candidates.

Hackworth was unconvinced.

"We'll have some candidates who will be deterred and some candidates who won't be deterred," he said.

Said Mayor John Doglione, "If someone has enough confidence, they will apply."

After two votes, it seemed as though the commission was at an impasse. The city charter requires that the city manager be appointed by four-fifths of the commission.

Finally, Eggers offered a compromise. In exchange for naming Freaney as interim, the commission would drop the requirement that candidates have a minimum of three years of experience in municipal administration within Florida. That would open the door to more candidates.

The deadline for application would be extended to March 15.

On their third vote, the commissioners voted unanimously to name Freaney interim city manager.

Freaney said she looks forward to the competitive process, "where I will be articulating my vision for the future of Dunedin."

Freaney began working for the city 22 years ago as a management analyst, during which she performed budgetary and administrative work. The following year, she was promoted to risk and safety manager and then division director of human resources and risk safety.

In 1994, she became director of administration. In 1998 her title changed to assistant city manager.

Freaney holds a master's in business administration from Kent State University. She is a singer, a puppeteer and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, and owns two Maltese dogs named Molly and Theodore, both regulars in the city's holiday parade.

Freaney said she was grateful to city commissioners for placing their confidence in her.

"We've got a lot going on," she said. "The challenge for us is to find the right balance between good redevelopment and doing it in a smart way that keeps the sense of place and quality of life that our citizens have come to love."

[Last modified January 7, 2006, 01:09:14]

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