By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE -- After a long and arduous selection process, city leaders have at last selected a new city manager.
Greg Kisela was chosen from a list of five finalists, narrowed down from 67 applicants, to succeed the outgoing Ken Parker. Mr. Kisela, who is a former Destin city manager, Walton County administrator and Fort Lauderdale assistant city manager, is expected to begin his new job on March 1, one day after Mr. Parker's retirement.
Mr. Kisela, 58, gained favor from the City Council because of his experience in both the private and public sectors and his track record of success with redevelopment, a priority in Port Orange.
"When I get to the bottom line, I end up with the closest package I have to where I want to go with someone ... that has some economic development, that's worked along the river or the ocean, has that experience with the CRAs, that understands money and the private sector, that understands utilities," Mayor Allen Green said. "I think addressing the issues we have before us can be done."
The biggest issue facing the city is a water billing undercharge to wholesale customers in Daytona Beach Shores that cost the city more than $1 million. Recently, Daytona Beach Shores' city manager Mike Booker rejected proposals from Mr. Parker for Port Orange to recover the lost revenue.
An investigation found failed internal control processes within the finance department, in addition to faulty water meters, caused the revenue loss gaffe. It also found finance director John Shelley and customer service director Betty Barnhart were responsible for the undercharge; both opted for retirement shortly after being suspended with pay.
Hometown News asked Mr. Kisela a series of questions about the water billing issue. He said he could not answer the questions because he did not review enough of the facts to give complete and informed answers.
"One of my fundamental beliefs as a manager is that I must have all the information and facts at hand before rendering a decision, especially on matters of great importance," he said. "... These issues are never easy, but once I make a decision and/or recommendation, I ensure there is full transparency so people are able to understand my thought process."
But Mr. Kisela -- and some of the people he's worked with in the past -- said he has experience dealing with similar situations throughout his career. Former Destin mayor Craig Baker highlighted the incoming city manager's "ability to solve complex challenges."
Although the water billing issue remains a priority, Mr. Kisela told city leaders the reason he was interested in the manager job was because of the city's need to redevelop its east side. In recent years the City Council has prioritized development of a 35-acre riverfront area known as Riverwalk, which is expected to feature a publicly owned park and privately owned commercial development, as well as a plan to upgrade a three-mile stretch of U.S. 1 known as the Ridgewood Corridor Plan.
Mr. Kisela's private sector experience came from his work directing operations for a Miami-based utility company, General Development Utilities, where he was employed from 1977 until it went out of business in 1991. He followed that by becoming Fort Lauderdale's public services director and, later, its assistant city manager.
Mr. Kisela became Destin's city manager in 2004. Under his leadership, he implemented a $20 million roadway and pedestrian improvement plan in the city's Town Center Community Redevelopment Area and settled a dispute with Okaloosa County that allowed the city to create the Destin Harbor Boardwalk. He also worked with county, state and federal officials to restore and rebuild the city following damages from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Hurricane Dennis in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
In 2011, Mr. Kisela stepped down as Destin's city manager to become Walton County administrator, a job he held for about a year before resigning. His short tenure in Walton County was a minor concern among council members. Mr. Kisela told them in an interview last week that he and his constituents in Walton County did not see eye to eye on the direction the county should take.
The City Council must finalize a contract with the incoming manager before he begins work. His compensation, including salary and benefits, will range between $120,000 and $160,000.