Fire chief poised to become city manager in Madeira Beach

Fire chief poised to become city manager in Madeira Beach

By Sheila Mullane Estrada, Times Correspondent

MADEIRA BEACH — Fire Chief and acting City Manager Derryl O’Neal may be appointed permanent city manager Tuesday, a move that echoes much of the city’s conflicted political history.

The City Commission was slated to discuss whether and how to begin a city manager search during its workshop on July 25, but Mayor Maggi Black put a quick halt to that when she proposed giving O’Neal the permanent job.

“From my standpoint, it comes down to whether at the next meeting Chief O’Neal will accept the permanent position, and, if he would, then we would have no need for a search,” Black said, adding that O’Neal is “doing the job well.”

“I agree,” Commissioner Nancy Oakley said.

The full commission then agreed to put O’Neal’s appointment on Tuesday’s agenda. If his appointment fails, the commission will then decide whether to hire an outside organization to conduct a search.

Oakley, along with Black and Commissioner John Douthirt, was elected in March on a platform of halting large-scale development in the city.

They frequently act as a team against Commissioners Terry Lister and Nancy Hodges, who support pending hotel developments in the downtown area.

When Black suggested the commission name O’Neal as the permanent city manager and forego performing any statewide or national search for candidates, Lister’s reaction was immediate and loudly drawn out: “Whaaaat?”

This week Lister said he is strongly opposed to O’Neal becoming the city’s manager, adding that Black’s evaluation of O’Neal’s ability is “absolutely not true”.

Lister and Hodges opposed O’Neal’s appointment as acting city manager, and vehemently opposed the earlier firing of former City Manager Shane Crawford — an action pushed by newly elected Black, Oakley and Douthirt.

Crawford was eventually allowed to resign and was given a severance package that when combined with his wife’s (former City Clerk Cheryl Crawford) severance was valued at $125,000.

O’Neal, 57, is a member of the Cross Bridge Church, the Gulf Beach Masonic Lodge, serving as a past district deputy grand master. He is also a member of the Center for Public Safety Excellence, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Florida League of Cities, and the International City Manager Association.

O’Neal has never been a city manager, but holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration, a master’s degree in public administration and is close to completing a doctoral degree in business administration.

He began his firefighting career in 1979, working for Pasco County Emergency Services.

Ironically, O’Neal himself has had a checkered history in Madeira Beach since he was first appointed fire chief in 2001.

In 2006, O’Neal came under fire, accused of creating a hostile work environment within the fire department. Following an investigation into the allegations by the city’s firefighter union, then-City Manager Jill Silverboard found no significant evidence that the complaints were valid, but required O’Neal to complete a “corrective action plan” or face “immediate suspension and/or discharge.”

O’Neal was fired in 2009 by then-city manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. for alleged insubordination, following complaints from Belleair Bluffs officials over O’Neal’s perceived interference in a then-pending fire services referendum in that city.

At the time, O’Neal was meeting with a group of fire chiefs considering plans for the creation of a public safety improvement district that would consolidate area fire services.

In November 2011, O’Neal returned to Madeira Beach, hired by then-interim City Manager Jim Madden as interim fire chief while continuing to serve as fire chief for the city of Minneola.

In March 2012, Crawford, shortly after he was hired as permanent city manager, appointed O’Neal as the official city’s fire chief.

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