By Leo Coughlin
Now that Indian Rocks Beach is on the verge of hiring a city manager, elected officials there must heed a flashing yellow light.
And the new manager, must pay heed also.
Caution, that light is flashing.
Why the caution?
Because in recent years the city has had a sad and unfortunate history in city managers.
Tom Brobeil, a top hand, thorough professional and well regarded by his peers, was run off.
John Coffey, who might have been in over his head at the time, was forced out.
Al Grieshaber was an unfortunate choice in the first place, more interested, from all appearances, in how he could advantage himself because of a contract that favored him and allowed him untrammeled freedom.
In the case of the first two named above the key word is meddling.
In the case of the third named, he was desired in the job because he would allow meddling without complaint as long, from all appearances, as he was allowed to pursue his own interests.
Here's the key element in all of this: The upheaval began as Bill Ockunzzi, now the mayor, grew in prominence as a member of the City Commission.
In the feeling of many observers, including this corner, this is just more than stray coincidence.
The fact of the matter is that Ockunzzi is a brilliant fellow, thoroughly familiar with the workings of government, well schooled and educated in the ingredients of government and public administration.
He would probably make a very good city manager himself. If Indian Rocks Beach had a strong mayor form of government he would be ideal.
But IRB has a manager-commission form and a guy who has all the tools to run everything has to exercise maximum restraint if he is elected to office and not appointed.
That is, Ockunzzi is just another member of the City Commission for all practical purposes and should not meddle, micro-manage or do any of those things that drive a professional manager nuts.
Restrain yourself, Bill. Have some trust that a pro knows how to do his job.
One of the big problems in Indian Rocks Beach in recent years is that Ockunzzi had support in the way he likes to treat a manager from colleagues on the commission.
Jim Palamara, Jeremiah Carmody and Ed Piniero fall into this category.
Gotta go back to Civics 101, guys. Gotta define what your jobs are as elected officials and stick to that. Gotta figure out what a manager does and let him or her do it.
Hard to figure how a city could do better than having Brobeil as city manager. He was a crackerjack. But he had to leave. Couldn't take it.
Coffey came into the picture as the kid, the rookie, the new guy stepping up, perhaps, a little higher and sooner than he was properly seasoned for.
But because he had the dewy freshness of someone new he was perceived, the betting here is, that he was a malleable tool, window dressing for the man behind the curtain who would really be pulling the strings.
When Coffey's authority was challenged he was not backed. A city manager must have authority over personnel almost beyond question. Otherwise his job becomes a charade.
And hiring a man because he has other motives and will let someone else exercise the levers of power as long as he his free to pursue his personal agenda buys exactly the kind of situation IRB bought itself in the past two years.
Now comes Steve Cottrell. Experienced in Belleair, which is almost as big as IRB and had as many if not more functions for a manager to deal with, Cottrell is an excellent choice for manager.
But already, in the time leading up to a decision, which is expected to come July 24, after two postponements, there has been some intriguing and the hint of some mind games.
IRB has an opportunity to hire a good and competent manager, a thorough professional.
The hope is that the opportunity will not be blown sky high.