Take more care when picking city manager

Published August 5, 2007

Once again, Safety Harbor is in the market for a new city manager. ¶ After only eight months on the job, Billy Beckett has announced his resignation, effective Oct. 1. Some residents and city officials in Safety Harbor think this is a shame. They say Beckett is a nice man and a good manager.

Perhaps so, but his divided loyalties were certain to bring conflict to city government at some point. Beckett is a professional referee for college football and arena football, and virtually year-round he travels to games where he has officiating jobs.

His referee schedule, combined with the fact that his wife and children remained in Georgia, had kept him away from the city for about a month's worth of workdays since he started his job in Safety Harbor on Oct. 23, 2006. That concerned some commissioners, especially Mayor Andy Steingold, but not others, who praised his personality, his skill at delegating and his success at raising morale among city employees.

Yet it would be naive to think that Beckett's absences - college football season has not even begun - would not eventually cause a problem in the city or for his bosses, the city commissioners. There would have come a time when a mistake was made or an emergency arose when Beckett was not there, and how would it have looked for him to be away, again, officiating football games? The Safety Harbor taxpayers paid for a full-time city manager, and there is nothing wrong with their insisting that they get what they paid for.

Fortunately, the city did not have to endure such a problem because Beckett chose to step down. In a letter to city commissioners, he wrote that "several extenuating circumstances and issues associated with those circumstances" caused him to decide that "the likelihood of a sustained tenure here does not appear to me to be the option that I once believed it to be."

What happened to bring Beckett to that conclusion is not clear, but now the City Commission has before it the task of hiring a new manager.

The experience with Beckett should have convinced commissioners of how important it is to have a careful, deliberate process for selecting a new manager. Commissioners rushed the process of selecting a manager last time; this time, they need to ask more in-depth questions, spend more time with candidates for the job, gather more public and employee input, and thoroughly check out references and resumes.

Only through such deliberation can they can be confident they are hiring a manager with the experience, personality and work ethic needed to satisfy the expectations of a quality community such as Safety Harbor.