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Council hopes city manager can adapt

Some welcome that Philip Lilly is new to the position. Critics are concerned about the time he may need to learn the ropes.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001

CRYSTAL RIVER -- When the City Council forced him to serve as interim city manager, Police Chief Jim Farley protested, saying he lacked experience in most municipal matters, such as sewer systems.

"I don't want to add to the chaos of the situation," Farley said.

But three months later, Farley says he enjoys the job so much he toyed with the idea of a full-time gig. "I had no experience but I was able to learn and things are going very well," he said Monday.

Farley's success illustrates that someone with drive and intelligence can adapt quickly, council members say.

Someone such as Philip Lilly, a Federal Aviation Administration official who was awarded a four-year contract on Saturday despite having no city manager experience.

"We've had years and years of all these proper profiles. Why not try someone who might be more of a people person than a technician?" council member Joe Chrietzberg said. "He can learn the technical; he can't always learn how to deal with the public."

Susan Kirk, a resident who observed the interviews, said Lilly is vested in the community because he lives here. "I would hate to be stereotyped that I can only do X because X is all I've ever done before," she said.

Not everyone is convinced that approach is appropriate. "Personally, I think Mr. Lilly is a nice guy. But we just have so many issues that need to be resolved," said former council member Paula Wheeler. "Where does he help the staff? I don't get it."

Council member Bonnie Taylor ranked Lilly third among four finalists interviewed Saturday. To help her decide, she made a chart with nine desired attributes, including experience with grant writing, public works and annexation.

Lilly "had the most holes," she said. "I just feel like we need someone who can hit the ground running. He's going to need some training."

The new manager could not be reached Monday. On Saturday, however, he said he felt comfortable about taking on the new responsibility and would work hard to familiarize himself with the city, even if that means jumping on a garbage truck for a day.

Explaining his reasons for taking the job, Lilly, 52, said he wanted to be a part of local government and "to be more in touch with people," and that he would be able to spend more time with his wife, Carol, and his church.

Lilly, who moved to Crystal River about four years ago, spends most of the week in Palm Coast, where the FAA has an office.

He is a part-time minister of education at First Baptist Church of Crystal River. Days before he was named city manager, members of his church called City Council members, urging them to select their friend.

Several members of the congregation attended the interview, a silent show of support that seemed to resonate with the council.

The interview was decidedly casual, with council members warmly addressing Lilly as though they had known him for years. Ray Wallace, in fact, said that he considers Lilly a friend. The two live near each other.

Lilly, who has a deliberate, upbeat speaking style, did not stumble once. The affair was so relaxed that some critics suggested the decision was made well before Saturday, a notion the council denied.

"It was such a well-known fact in the community that Mr. Lilly was going to be our manager," Wheeler said.

"The fix is in," remarked resident Phil Jannarone.

Critics point to a recent council meeting in which officials said they did not feel bound by the exact wording of the job advertisement, which called for experience as an assistant city manager or city manager.

Chrietzberg, who referred to the advertisement several times Saturday, noted that only one of the finalists fully met the stated requirements.

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