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    City rethinks economic director's post

    In the middle of trying to recruit an economic development director, the city plans to recast its net for applicants and shuffle the job duties.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Interim City Manager Bill Horne says he is leaning toward keeping the economic development director post an assistant city manager-level job, even after the city sought applications for a replacement in a lower position.

    Reconsideration of the economic development post comes after concerns were expressed by the business community, particularly the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.

    Chamber members say an economic development director will not hold the same weight as an assistant city manager. They fear the city will be doing itself a disservice if it hires an economic development director without the authority to make crucial decisions when the city is either recruiting new companies or trying to retain existing businesses.

    Bob Keller, who served as assistant city manager and economic development director, resigned for health reasons in January after an investigation of a burglary at his home turned up 2.3 grams of marijuana. No charges will be filed in the case, prosecutors have said.

    "The assistant city manager (title) gives us more negotiating power, gives us more clout and gives us more presence at meetings," said Mike Meidel, president and chief executive of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.

    Horne, for now, concurs.

    "We are still in very much a redevelopment mode, and we still have a lot of people still interested in what the city has to offer," he said.

    Horne said he will make a final decision in March. The employee could be named as early as April. The city will recast its net for more qualified individuals, including those who didn't apply because they didn't like the title or the pay scale.

    Horne had considered lowering the profile of the position because he thought an assistant city manager should have more responsibilities, given the authority and salary the title confers. Horne has yet to flesh out exactly what the additional duties could be.

    The economic development director position that was advertised would pay between $75,000 and $85,000 annually. An assistant city manager could receive as much as $95,000 a year.

    Keller received a base salary of $93,000.

    Meanwhile, the application process is in limbo.

    The city advertised for an economic development director in January and received 65 applications. But Horne said the position was advertised prematurely and without a nod from him. If he gives the go-ahead, the city will seek more qualified applicants.

    Of those who have applied, officials said, only nine look good on paper. And they include Rick Michael, who was forced out of a similar economic development position in Hernando County amid concerns about his management style, claims of his accomplishments in an annual report, and closed Economic Development Commission board meetings.

    The applications were narrowed based on previous skills and experience, said Paul O'Rourke, the city's human resources director. The city hadn't checked references of the nine applicants and won't check them until the field has been cut again.

    - Information from Times files was used in this report.

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