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A Times Editorial

Best candidate already has job

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


When the Crystal River Council convenes its special meeting Monday night to narrow the list of applicants for city manager, the most qualified candidate may not even be considered.

Of the 68 people who responded to the city's national advertisement, many do not meet the minimum qualifications for the position. And even those who do, cannot match the experience of current city manger David Sallee, simply because he has done the job -- and done it well -- for almost two years.

But the council, which voted in February to not extend Sallee's contract beyond its June 6 expiration date, is expected to disregard Sallee's interest. The excuse the predisposed council majority is using is that Sallee did not personally turn in his application. Instead, it was submitted by a group of residents, Crystal River Citizens for Reform, which is upset the council shunned Sallee in the first place.

It is understandable that Sallee did not wish to capitulate to the council. Being expected to apply for a job you already hold is humiliating, especially when you have already made it clear you want to stay.

More to the point, Sallee knows he has done a good job. Notably, he helped secure a $4.3-million grant to replace hundreds of failing septic systems with central sewer service. He also had to endured -- and overcame -- long absences of top staff members, including the finance officer and building official. In addition, he helped heal some of the lingering animosity between the city and the County Commission, which had long regarded Crystal River as an uncooperative underling.

Sallee has been a consummate professional. He did not play favorites, even in the face of inexplicable opposition from some council members who were short on details about why they lacked confidence in him. Sallee's only significant failure was his inability to bend to the will of a council whose agenda is as muddied as its logic.

What responsible public servant would not foresee the wisdom in retaining the city manager, particularly a competent one who is familiar with the process, until after he has prepared the upcoming operating budget?

In that vein, why would the council refuse to consider the incumbent manager in the mix of applications, especially when he exceeds all the qualifications?

The council is expected to pare the pool of applicants to seven when it meets at 5 p.m. Monday. Sallee should be among them, and if he is not, there can be no doubt council members are acting in the interest of someone other than their constituents.

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