Bill Horne sees his 26-year career in the Air Force as good preparation for the challenges of his new job.
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 15, 2001
CLEARWATER -- Bill Horne, a retired Air Force colonel who is Clearwater's newly appointed city manager, has a systematic approach to most things, even his laundry.
Horne hangs up clean dress shirts on one side of his closet. Then he wears the shirts in order, pulling them out from the other side of the rack, ensuring that each shirt receives approximately the same wear and tear.
Every weekday morning begins with a routine, too. Horne awakens by 4:30 a.m., goes outside his Countryside home, just down the street from former City Manager Mike Roberto's house. He picks up his Clearwater Times to see what his local news section has to say about him.
Next the 52-year-old heads to Morton Plant Mease's Clearwater Wellness Center at the fringe of Clearwater's downtown. He works out for an hour with Assistant City Manager Garry Brumback, another former military man. Brumback and Horne then have a cup of coffee at 7 a.m. at the hospital's cafe. They plan the day's priorities and head to City Hall.
Not surprisingly, Horne already has a plan to begin his tenure as the city's newly appointed manager. Sitting down in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times last week, Horne laid out his priorities:
First, he has to finish negotiating his new contract with the city so that it can be approved in early August. At the same time, Horne said, he will kick his low-key style up a notch.
Horne plans to more forcefully represent the city on regional issues. And he will be more forthright with commissioners, now that he has the manager's job after serving as interim manager for a year.
"I'm going to be a little more opinionated, a little more directive with the commission," Horne said, "although they still will be in charge."
Horne plans other changes for the city's organization, too. His first major hiring decision will be a new assistant city manager for economic development and a possible reorganization of the departments that report to this administrator, he said. Planning Director Ralph Stone is a contender, Horne said.
Now for the long-term goals.
Over the next year, Horne said, he will develop a strategic plan for the city, defining the city's priorities for the next decade. The City Commission will set the goals in "visioning" workshops, Horne said, and his staff will plan how to achieve them.
The city had a previous plan, called "One City. One Future."
But city officials scrapped it last year after too many controversies with its flashy, signature projects, ranging from the Clearwater Beach roundabout to last year's failed downtown redevelopment proposal.
Horne said the city's new plan should balance strengthening neighborhoods and improving city infrastructure with economic development.
Horne described his vision to commissioners during his job interview last week.
"My vision is that we have a city that resources itself so that I can improve the way it looks . . . from one end of the city to the other," Horne said, as he sat facing commissioners around a conference table, his signature, square gold glasses perched on his nose.
"I also believe that we should have an unequivocal commitment to economic vitality," Horne said. "Tourism is our No. 1 industry. . . . I think we need to be making sure that base is sound, vibrant and harmonizes with our neighborhoods and communities, and our permanent residents.
"My vision involves our community pulling together and addressing some of the more unpleasant things with our community, building our future together," Horne said. "We're all interdependent, we all have to pull together."
Although Horne is a creature of routine and planning, there are some aspects of Horne's persona that are not routine -- at least not for Clearwater.
Horne is a Democrat flying low under the radar in Republican-loving Pinellas County.
He is the first African-American to hold Clearwater's city manager job, a fact that Horne doesn't dwell on. Horne said that he is simply proud to be in a position where he could be a role model for younger people, of any race.
Finally, Horne has little experience in city government, except for the past three years he has been with the city. He was the guy who oversaw the city's building and fleet maintenance department before becoming an assistant city manager in 1999.
Horne told commissioners last week that he plans to seek and retain the best staff who can fill in any gaps in his knowledge of city government issues.
Before his brief city career, Horne spent 26 years and seven months in the Air Force.
Horne credits his military service with teaching him to manage time efficiently and developing his stamina to be a high-level manager, dealing with a host of pressures and problems.
Horne said he was drawn to the military for the same reasons he was drawn to city government: He is driven to do something prestigious and honorable.
Horne grew up in Oklahoma during the era of the Civil Rights Movement, and from a young age, sought leadership positions. Nicknamed "Cheese" because he had been chubby in grade school, Horne was elected president of his student council at his all-black high school.
Later at the University of Tulsa, he was elected president of the black student union and chairman of the university's student government senate. With the Vietnam War ongoing, Horne signed up with the ROTC in college to go into the Air Force as an officer.
But Vietnam ended just as Horne was leaving college. Horne would wind up behind a desk, immersed in human resources, planning and management issues, during the next 26 years in the military.
Horne rose in the ranks to become a colonel, serving at bases all over the country and picking up master's degrees in human resources management and in political science along the way.
With his college sweetheart and wife, Loretta, Horne also raised a daughter, Christina, who is 20 and an Eckerd College student, and an adopted son, Lamoyne, who is 28 and lives in Oklahoma.
From 1993 to 1995, Horne was placed in charge of overseeing the support divisions that kept the Yokota Air Base in Japan running, which he says was the equivalent of being a city manager. Then he transferred to MacDill Air Force Base, where he was the director of human resources.
Although Horne has his service medals displayed in his office from his career, at MacDill he realized he would probably rise no further in the Air Force. About that time, a former military co-worker referred his resume to former City Manager Mike Roberto. That led Horne to make a jump to City Hall.
It wasn't easy. Horne had some conflicts with Roberto, with whom he served as an assistant city manager, particularly when Roberto would make plans with other department directors and forget to include Horne. In addition, the Roberto administration made headlines.
"I had never been associated with an organization and seen such an active expression of distrust," said Horne, alluding to the public criticism under Roberto's tenure. "It was very clearly hostile."
Horne himself took some heat, becoming ensnared in a debate over whether city officials had used personal e-mail accounts to send private messages back and forth in order to avoid disclosing details on significant projects to the public. Horne denied any wrongdoing.
Since Horne took over the reins of government last summer, he said, he has told his fellow city administrators that they must remove themselves from ever becoming a point of criticism, preventing the city from focusing on the debate of issues.
Horne has asked administrators to pay serious attention to the details of projects in their initial stages -- so the city doesn't have to scramble to put out fires later.
For stabilizing the city and beginning to repair Clearwater's public image since taking over, Horne has received high marks from residents and representatives of the local business community who praised Horne in letters and phone calls to the city last week.
"No matter what the credentials of the new candidates for Clearwater city manager may be, it would be foolish to believe that any newcomer could walk into this political environment and keep the harmony Bill Horne has brought to the staff and the entire city," wrote Joe Burdette, who has a company that organizes promotions for organizations.
The city's employee unions have said they feel they can trust Horne and urged his appointment. After Horne was chosen, city department directors threw a party for Horne at Clearwater Beach's posh Island Way Grill.
Commissioners said they approved of Horne's integrity, intelligence and consensus-building style.
Now that he has the job officially, Commissioner Whitney Gray said, she expects to see a "new and improved" Bill Horne, who is more forthright about his opinions.
There are plenty of projects in the works that will test Horne's management in the coming year.
Among them: a new $65-million Clearwater Memorial Causeway bridge, a $4-million North Greenwood aquatics and recreation center, a $20.2-million downtown library, a $22-million-plus spring training complex for the Philadelphia Phillies and a host of beach redevelopment ideas struggling to gain steam.
Horne sighed slightly last week after ticking off the list.
"I think we can get it all done," Horne said, "but we've got to have a plan."
CURRENT JOB: From July 2000, interim city manager of Clearwater, a city of 109,000 residents and an annual budget of about $200-million. Appointed city manager last week, pending the commission's approval of an employment contract in August.
EXPERIENCE: At Clearwater, has worked to keep projects on track while requiring senior managers to have high standards of integrity. Forced resignations of five "problem performers." Served in the Air Force for 26 years. Was director of manpower, personnel and administration at MacDill Air Force Base and commander, 374th Support Group, at Yokota Air Base in Japan.
EDUCATION: Master's degrees in political science from Auburn University, and human resources management from Pepperdine University. Bachelor's degree from the University of Tulsa.
As interim city manager, Bill Horne occasionally sent his staff e-mails explaining his philosophy of leadership. One such e-mail, sent in February and titled "Characteristics of Those Gone Before Us," offers an especially telling glimpse into Horne's thinking.
Horne listed 13 traits that he saw in employees forced to resign over three years he has been with the city.
"The key thing is for all of us, me included, to learn from the past mistakes of others and don't follow the same path," Horne wrote. Among the traits that Horne said he won't tolerate in his staff:
Inflated sense of importance
Arrogant attitude that implies the person is above the rules and untouchable
Big spender image
"Loved" technological toys and office decor
Professed to believe in EEO (equal employment opportunity) and fairness, but actions raised many questions and created perceptions of doubt
Didn't treat all employees with dignity and respect
Not big on accountability
Very sensitive to media exposure
Couldn't say "no" to subordinates when required
Didn't understand or refused to respect community sensitivities in well-known areas
Couldn't make really tough decisions
Didn't understand the concept of hands-on management (it doesn't mean micromanagement -- it means seeing the importance of being quite familiar with staff operations)
Failed to understand that private and public life merge together when you are a public administrator