By Jane Smith
Faced with a list of more than 150 applicants for acting city manager, Delray Beach City Commissioner Mitch Katz reviewed their occupations.
He saw a sous chef, a store manager, a teacher, a personal trainer, a mechanic and a caregiver from those who applied using a job search website, along with applicants with government experience provided by the Colin Baenziger search firm.
Then, he thought of Delray Beach department heads whose leadership skills he admired. Katz called the city’s relatively new fire chief, Neal de Jesus, and persuaded him to become acting city manager.
“I believe I possess the skills needed to lead,” de Jesus said. “The city has subject matter experts. I am comfortable leading other people and relying on their advice.”
He wants to return to his position as the fire chief when the commission finds a permanent city manager. With two commission seats in the March election, that might not happen until April or May. The city will start advertising for a city manager in January.
De Jesus replaced Don Cooper at 5:01 p.m. Dec. 30. Cooper, who was city manager for two years, announced his resignation in October, saying family medical problems would not allow him to fully concentrate on the job.
Cooper recommended a 10 percent pay increase for de Jesus while he is acting city manager. “The job is 24/7,” Cooper told commissioners Dec. 13, and they agreed.
The Daytona Beach Shores search firm will be paid the agreed-upon $9,000 for providing a list of applicants for the acting city manager, Cooper said. For the search to fill the permanent city manager position, the firm will give the city a discount. The contract should come before the commission in January, he said.
De Jesus hired Keith Tomey, who recently retired as fire chief for Miramar, to be assistant fire chief/administration. Tomey started Dec. 27. Three days later, he was promoted to acting fire chief while de Jesus serves as the interim city manager.
Mayor Cary Glickstein liked the idea. He said, “De Jesus is revered as the chief of chiefs.”
Katz said he was hesitant to bring up de Jesus’ name as a possible acting city manager.
“I didn’t know how the other commissioners would react,” Katz said. “But it saved us time and money on the search.”
The commissioner said he had been watching de Jesus since he arrived in April. “Morale is really up in his department,” Katz said. De Jesus “really stepped up to help the city.”
The fire chief wowed the city commissioners at their goal-setting session in October when he talked about his ideas of saving the city thousands by bulk ordering items. He saved the city $460,000 by ordering medical gloves for the full year, and not on an as-needed basis.
Vice Mayor Jordana Jarjura called it going after low-hanging fruit.
De Jesus said it costs the city hundreds of dollars in staff time to get the price quotes, but it can save the city tens of thousands. “I’d like to see that made a routine practice by department heads,” he said.
As to the ever-increasing overdose calls that fire-rescue responds to, he said, “We need a holistic approach to the recovery industry. These people are not animals, they are human beings who happen to be addicted. They are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. But we can’t just keep reacting to it.”
He is hopeful that the city can craft an ordinance to control sober homes so that addicts can get the help needed to recover.
“We have to control the size of the target. We can’t keep hiring people to respond to overdose calls,” he said.
Then he added, “As long as it’s a priority of the commission.”