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    5 candidates arrive for city manager tours, chats

    City commissioners start formal interviews Tuesday and hope to name a new city leader the same day.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 8, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Today the five people who want to be Clearwater's next city manager will arrive at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort. But the next two days won't be any vacation.

    After an orientation this evening, the job candidates will spend Monday touring Clearwater, eating lunch with top city administrators and hearing presentations about city initiatives such as beach redevelopment projects. Then candidates will chat with city commissioners in private, one-on-one meetings at City Hall.

    At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the City Commission begins its formal interviews of the candidates at a public meeting at City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave. The interviews -- with 45 minutes budgeted with each candidate -- are slated to end about 3 p.m.

    Then the commission is expected to discuss the candidates and choose a new city manager the same day as the interviews.

    Whomever the commission chooses will become the city's sixth city manager since 1987, thanks to a period that has included several political shifts and controversies such as last summer's failed downtown referendum.

    The five candidates have touted their experiences with large budgets, redevelopment issues, major construction projects and sensitive personnel decisions in their applications to the city. They come from cities of roughly the same size as Clearwater or larger. All are city managers or have been assistant city managers, and most have master's degrees.

    Here's a look at the city's choices, based on their job applications:

    Clearwater interim City Manager Bill Horne, a retired Air Force colonel who became a city administrator three years ago, is seen as the hometown favorite. Horne, 52, has tried to use the last year as interim city manager to prove to commissioners he deserves to stay permanently.

    Horne said the highlight of his brief tenure, since taking over after then-City Manager Mike Roberto resigned last July, has been restoring some public confidence in how city government is being run.

    He forced a handful of administrators to resign, because of concerns that their personalities had the potential to distract the city's attention away from issues. And, Horne says, he has restored a sense of teamwork among the administrators who stayed.

    Horne also says he tried to slow down the pace of projects, such as ideas about building new hotels and parking garages on the beach, so that the city staff could have time to deal with details.

    Horne has only three years of experience in city government, but he said his military experience is relevant. Horne was a commander of what he says was the equivalent of a small city, the 374th Support Group at Yokota Air Base in Japan.

    Sterling B. Cheatham, 48, the assistant city manager of Norfolk, Va., has had a longtime goal to be a city manager. He has been steadily moving up the ranks at various city halls, trying to achieve his dream.

    Cheatham's career started out as a budget officer, then an assistant to the city manager in Greenville, S.C. He became a finance director after that for the city of College Park, Md., and then Aiken County, S.C.

    From there, he wound up in Norfolk as a finance director working on financial planning for the city of 231,000. In 1993, Cheatham moved his plastic miniature basketball hoop to a new office when he was promoted to assistant city manager after two years with the city.

    Since then, Cheatham has had a hand in projects ranging from building a new minor league baseball park to a downtown mall in Norfolk, which has been lauded as one of the South's most livable cities.

    Cheatham is also responsible for overseeing 1,800 employees in the city's public safety and administrative departments.

    Bonnie Ridley Kraft, 53, has been the city manager of Gresham, Ore., an affluent suburb of Portland, since 1992. Before that, she was the city's treasurer and director of management services since 1979.

    A major theme in Gresham has been growth: The city grew from about 10,000 people to more than 90,000 over the past 20 years. Kraft oversaw construction of an $11-million city hall and was credited for assembling a high-quality management staff.

    Kraft says she also worked to make Gresham a player in the Portland metropolitan area, developing contracts to provide various services to other locales.

    Some of Kraft's investment policies have been used by the national Government Finance Officers Association as model policies, and she has served on the board of a large government employees retirement corporation, which had $15-billion in assets.

    Kraft has considered city manager jobs this year in Tempe, Ariz., and Westminster, Colo., telling the Oregonian that she and her husband are looking for a lifestyle change now that their two sons are on their own.

    Michael McNees, 46, assistant county manager in Collier County, comes to the city with perhaps the most diverse resume of all five contenders.

    McNees has worked his way up in Collier government from an administrative assistant, holding the positions of utilities director and budget director before becoming an assistant manager in 1995 for the fast-growing county with more than 250,000 residents.

    McNees has experience handling large projects, such as overseeing $100-million worth of utilities projects. He currently is the county's "chief operating officer," responsible for managing 1,400 employees and a budget of $611-million.

    And he has some other more unusual experiences as well, including being a college track champion and, for a short time, a college track coach.

    McNees is also president of Naples Players Inc., one of the country's 10 largest community theaters, which recently raised $6.8-million to build a two-auditorium theater complex. He has also taught college courses on management principles and served on an advisory committee for the master's program in public administration at Florida Gulf Coast University.

    Michael K. West, 50, assistant city manager of Columbia, S.C., comes to Clearwater with experience working on downtown redevelopment projects, including a new restaurant and arts district in the city of about 123,000.

    As Columbia's chief financial officer and assistant manager since 1990, West has been responsible for saving Columbia more than $15-million in interest payments through debt refinancing, according to his resume.

    He has also worked on planning the financing for street beautification projects, a new convention center and incentives to woo a regional bank to make its headquarters in downtown Columbia. The highlight of the bank deal was a tax-financed parking garage.

    West said he is also proud of being involved in locating the Columbia Museum of Art in a new building downtown.

    West is familiar with the Tampa Bay area, as he was long ago stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. Early in his career, he worked for Fort Lauderdale as a budget analyst and then for Waste Management Inc. of Florida as general manager in the 1980s.

    West says he has wanted to move back to Florida for several years and the Clearwater job caught his eye.

    The job

    Clearwater's city manager oversees a staff of about 1,700 employees and an annual budget of $200-million or more. The salary is flexible; commissioners have discussed a salary of up to $130,000.

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