By Joe Capozzi

For the second time in less than four years, Ocean Ridge commissioners are looking for a new town manager, a search they hope to complete within the next four months.
Town Manager Tracey Stevens is leaving Sept. 11 to become town manager and finance director for Haverhill. She will make $134,400, a little more than her Ocean Ridge salary of $132,500.
Stevens, who replaced Jamie Titcomb in March 2019, submitted her resignation on July 15.
10746236694?profile=RESIZE_180x180“I really wasn’t looking to leave Ocean Ridge, because I love serving the residents here. However, I was presented with an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up to manage the town of Haverhill which aligns with my professional and personal goals,’’ Stevens said. 
“I will truly miss serving the residents of Ocean Ridge and working alongside some of the best colleagues in local government any town manager could ask for. I am confident that the extremely competent and professional staff that Ocean Ridge employs will carry on my care and compassion for the town.”
Commissioners hope to hire an interim town manager in early August and a full-time manager by Thanksgiving, if not sooner. 
At a special meeting Aug. 8, they plan to interview three candidates for the interim job: Michelle Berger, a former Port St. Lucie City Council member who served as Sewell’s Point town manager in Martin County from October 2019 to January 2022; Lynne Ladner, a former interim town manager in the Pinellas County town of Kenneth City; and former Lake County Manager Alan Rosen.
With help from the Florida City and County Management Association’s senior advisers program, a free service that offers assistance in finding new town managers, commissioners hope to interview full-time manager candidates in October.
Commissioners will advertise for candidates in similar-sized seaside towns in and out of Florida. Stevens, who had worked for the town for six years, also served as finance director as part of her town manager duties.  A majority of town commissioners said they are sorry to see Stevens go, and some suggested political pressure may have played a role in her decision.
“She has a very good offer and probably a little less stress,’’ said Mayor Susan Hurlburt. “She proved herself to be a true professional at every turn. She doesn’t do things lightly. This must have taken a lot of thought.’’ 
“A sad day for our town indeed,’’ Vice Mayor Kristine de Haseth said in an email to Stevens and the other four commissioners July 15. 
“Tracey was hands down the most professional, transparent, impartial and hard-working town manager we’ve ever had. She has helped us transition to a sustainable, wonderfully staffed town with an admirable level of service on all fronts. She will be sorely missed and difficult to replace.
“But don’t think for one second that the inmates will be allowed to run the prison again. Those days are in the rearview mirror.’’
That last comment struck a nerve for political opponents of de Haseth, who criticized her choice of words on social media. On Aug. 1, de Haseth publicly apologized for using “a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I would never characterize our residents and our staff that way,” she said, adding that her internal email “was circulated to select members of the town by a fellow commissioner” whom she did not name.
Commissioner Martin Wiescholek called Stevens’ departure “a huge loss for our town.”
“I can only hope we find a replacement who is equally as good as she is and equally as committed. I know she is very well liked with the residents, and her open door policy I’m sure will be missed by many when she is gone,’’ he said.
“Everybody should be able to move on to bigger and better things and I wish her luck,’’ said Commissioner Geoff Pugh, who has served on the commission through five town managers. “Through five town managers, she has been a reasonably efficient town manager.’’
Commissioner Steve Coz, a frequent critic of Stevens, offered no public comments about her departure. 
At a special meeting July 25 to discuss her transition, Stevens asked — and received — permission to start consulting work for Haverhill on her free time at night and on the weekends. “It troubles me,’’ Coz said of her request, “but I don’t see any other way around it.”
Haverhill encompasses 0.6 square mile on both sides of Belvedere Road just west of Palm Beach International Airport. That’s slightly smaller than Ocean Ridge, according to the U.S. Census.
But the towns are vastly different. For one, the average household income in Haverhill is around $80,000, far below Ocean Ridge’s average of just under $216,000.
And Haverhill’s population, 2,300, is much more diverse — nearly 39% Latino, nearly 29% African American and 25% white. In Ocean Ridge, 91% of the town’s 1,830 full-time residents are white.

Political issues involved?
While the other three commissioners gave Stevens glowing reviews in her most recent evaluation, Coz and Pugh raised questions about her abilities and effectiveness. 
Hurlburt and Wiescholek are up for election in March 2023. A loss by either of them could lead to a shift in the commission’s opinion about the manager. 
“She told me she was leaving because she was unexpectedly offered a position that she could not refuse,’’ Wiescholek said. “And not knowing what her employment status is after the ’23 election, she probably didn’t want to take a chance on being unemployed in April 2023.’’ 
On Aug. 1, several residents offered kind words about Stevens.
“Tracey, your resignation is a true loss to Ocean Ridge. You will be truly missed,” former town Commissioner Zoanne Hennigan said.
“It’s been disheartening to know that we’ve had some town leaders who have overtly and covertly sabotaged this previously well-run machine,” Hennigan said. “We are no longer ‘Mayberry’ or the ‘Village of Endless Summer.’ We have some significant issues to solve. Let this pettiness stop so we can move forward.”
Stevens’ impending departure comes a month after Town Clerk Karla Armstrong announced she was leaving to attend law school. Armstrong will be replaced by Kelly Avery, who has worked as deputy or assistant clerk in West Palm Beach, Wellington and Gulf Stream. 
Hurlburt said she spoke briefly to Ocean Ridge Police Chief Richard Jones about the idea of doubling his duties and serving as interim town manager but they both agreed it would be too much work for him.
Even if Jones wanted to serve as interim manager, he could not do both and the town would have to hire an interim police chief, said Town Attorney Christy Goddeau.

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