Fort Smith city administrator cites family reasons for seeking job in Florida

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 4,315 views 

The mayor and city council in the gulf coast town of Clearwater, Fla., may have reopened the search for a new city manager, but Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken is not out of the running.

Geffken was named one of five finalists from 91 applicants May 24 and invited, along with the others, to an interview session. The five finalists were Jill Goldsmith, town manager for Chatham, Mass., Gary Palmer, former Roswell, Ga., city administrator; Michael Cernech, city manager for Tamarac, Fla.; Kevin Woods, city manager for Thornton, Col.; and Geffken.

Prior to the interview, three finalists dropped out of the competition, delaying the final interviews, reports from Clearwater stated. The city council called a special meeting June 9 to discuss the situation and agreed to continue with the interviews, which were scheduled to begin June 14 with the remaining two finalists — Geffken and Woods. The council called a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss the unexpected circumstances and agreed to continue next week’s interviews with the remaining two finalists: Geffken and Kevin Woods, the city manager in Thornton, Colorado.

According to the Times article, one council member suggested rescheduling interviews with Geffken and Woods, and the other four board members agreed to restart the search. The city called off the scheduled interviews, city tour and public forum on June 11. The job opening was reposted for an additional 30 days, at which time new recommendations will be submitted to the city council. Geffken said he and Woods were told they would remain finalists in the search.

The city began its nationwide search for a new city manager in April when City Manager Bill Horne, who has served as the Clearwater city manager for 20 years, announced his retirement. Horne, 71, was set to retire in July after a new city manager was hired. He said he would work with the city council on his retirement date now that the search had restarted.

The city manager position has a salary range of $210,000 to $270,000, according to the job posting. The position comes with a benefit package that includes 100% paid employee coverage for health, dental, life and disability insurance; 10 paid holidays; and $600 per month vehicle allowance. Florida does not have a state income tax.

Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken

The city has a population of nearly 120,000 and is located on Central Florida’s Gulf Coast. It “has a long-standing reputation for supporting a professionally operated and innovative local government and is recognized as one of the most desired places to live and work in the southeastern United States,” the job posting said. Clearwater is the county seat of Pinellas County and one of three principal cities in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area.

Geffken, who was then the chief operating officer in Berks County, Pa., was hired as the city administrator in Fort Smith in 2016. His salary is $175,674. He said he had always gotten notices of city administrator positions when at his former job, and when the one for Fort Smith crossed his desk, he jumped at the chance.

“My husband’s family was from Arkansas. I saw this great job in Fort Smith. That is why I applied,” Geffken said.

Though he still loves the city and his position, Geffken said he has family who live in Florida and many good friends from New York and New Jersey, where he is from, who have moved to the state over the years.

“I have family, cousins, who are getting older, who live on the east coast (of the state). Clearwater is on the west coast. I’ve told them, ‘We could meet halfway.’ Halfway is this little town called Orlando,” he said.

Geffken also visited the Cape Coral, Fort Morgan, Sanibel Island area of Florida yearly with his family for many years from the late 1980s to around 2004, he said.

“I’m very familiar with the area. I know it has had an explosion of growth,” Geffken said. “It’s a beautiful area. I have friends there, who I know wouldn’t have moved if the people weren’t really great. It’s all positive. That’s why I applied.”

According to the job posting the Church of Scientology is a significant property owner in downtown Clearwater.

“(The) new city manager will be responsible for building a relationship with this entity,” it said.

The city is governed by a city council that consists of five elected members, including the mayor. All are elected at-large serving four-year overlapping terms, with elections held every two years. Appointment of the city manager requires the affirmative vote of four council members and can be removed by an affirmative vote of four members or by a majority of the council at two separate meetings held at least two weeks apart.