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City clerk savors 20-year adventure

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001

Retiring Shirley Carroll's office has gone from typewriters to computers -- with 10 city managers along the way.

Twenty years ago this month, Shirley Carroll walked into Crystal River's municipal offices looking for a job that she didn't even know was available.

As it turned out, "they had a real hard time keeping girls," she recalled. "It was real slow." She was hired a week later.

A desk job in a drowsy town may seem an odd fit for someone like Carroll, who these days drives a purple Firebird, dresses with a certain chic and is fond of Caribbean cruises.

But sitting in her office, surrounded by file cabinets full of records dating back to 1903, Carroll seems very much content in her role as city clerk.

In fact, she has done little else in her adult years. After moving to Florida in the mid 1970s, she took deputy city clerk jobs in two communities near Melbourne.

"I don't like large cities, the hustle and bustle," said Carroll, who grew up in a small town outside Tucson, Ariz.

Over the years she has gained a reputation as a competent and loyal employee. She has attended dozens of City Council meetings, typed pages and pages of minutes and handled her share of vindictive politicians and nosy citizens.

"She's a great lady," said John Morrison, Carroll's original boss, the first of 10 city managers she has worked for. "She was a big relief to me because prior to her coming, I had to take the minutes. I was tickled to death when she came."

Carroll will retire at the end of the year and plans to travel, possibly to Australia and New Zealand, and learn more about the Internet, among other things. Before she heads off, she took some time out of a busy morning to speak with Times reporter Alex Leary.

Question: What brought you to Crystal River?

Answer: The reason we came over here was because my husband at the time had a business and he ended up selling it. In the contract it said he couldn't start another business of that type in that area. He had some friends over here and we came over and looked and liked it.

Q: Did you know there was a job opening in Crystal River?

A: No. I just came to apply because that's what I was already doing. A week later they said, "Come back in, you've got the experience." I got the job on Feb. 23 of 1981.

Q: How has your job evolved over the years?

A: When I first came, everything used to be on a typewriter. I used to do all the minutes on the typewriter, any kind of correspondence. I did all the payroll on the typewriter, all the 60 employees or how many there were at the time. In 1984, we got the first computer system. The CPU was like a Coke machine; it was huge.

Q: Have computers made your job easier?

A: Oh, yes. I had one city manager who always changed his letters two or three times. So you had to do the whole thing over again. Now you just go in and correct it on the computer, print it and it's done.

Q: You've sat through a lot of meetings. Do you ever get bored?

A: The long meetings kind of drag on and you get tired. I just don't think people can think right after they've been here all those hours. You are always wanting to get out when you have to be back to work at eight in the morning. But I know it's my job so I know I have to do it.

Q: What are some of the most outrageous things you have seen at the council meetings over the years?

A: Daryl Oster, when he was on the council, brought a banana one time. It was supposed to be like his gun. We were mandated to do Americans With Disabilities Act regulations to all the building here: the doors, the bathroom, all that. All along, he voted against it and all the people in wheelchairs showed up to one of the council meetings. Before he got on the council, at budget time, he put a cardboard arm into his back pocket, like they were taking money from him by raising the millage.

And then Helen Spivey. When she was on the council, she used to bring a jar of water out of her canal and set it up on the top of the podium. At the time at the treatment plant, even though the water was all treated, they released it back into the river. She said it was causing the water to be bad.

Q: David Sallee, as you know, was effectively fired last week. Any thoughts on that decision?

A: By keep changing city managers I don't think we can have stability here. He was a very good man, a very smart man, he was able to get those grants for us. He's done a lot for the city. But it's up to the council to hire and fire the city manager. If that's their decision, I have to go along with it.

Q: How does David Sallee compare to the other managers you have worked with.

A: I've worked with some that I thought were excellent. He's one of the top.

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