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Published Jan. 14|Updated Jan. 15

ST. PETERSBURG — After a second bout of coronavirus, Ken Welch spent his first official day at City Hall on Thursday meeting employees in the elevator, figuring out which buttons open which doors and learning how the trunk door works on the city’s new white Ford Explorer.

And at his first City Council meeting as mayor, he introduced the appointment of someone who knew the halls of City Hall well: Pending City Council approval, Thomas Greene was promoted to interim City Administrator after having served as assistant city administrator under former Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“We have the highest confidence in Tom,” Welch said.

Prompted by a question by council member Lisset Hanewicz, Welch clarified why Greene’s title was interim: Welch will hold a national search for the city’s highest position working alongside Deputy Mayor and Chief of Policy Stephanie Owens.

The city administrator’s job is to oversee city operations and services. Council members showered Greene with praise as his family watched the unanimous vote. He gets a raise under Welch, from making $192,799.14 under Kriseman to $210,000.

“I think Tom is the right person to lead the city administration,” Welch said. “I also believe that this position, being the top administrative position, requires a nationwide search.”

“I expect Tom to be the leading candidate,” he added.

Welch told the Tampa Bay Times that he’s conducted national searches four times as a Pinellas County Commissioner for a county administrator. In one case, the search was stopped and the commission appointed Mark Woodard, the acting county administrator.

“I just think it’s always a worthy exercise for a top-level position,” he said. “If you don’t do the national search it’ll raise questions about did you find the best and brightest.”

The search hasn’t started yet. Welch is working on developing the criteria and conducting the search in the first quarter. The ideal candidate, he said, would need to make equity a high priority, know emergency management and have experience with issues like sea-level rise. They would have to collaborate with the legislature in Tallahassee and regional partners.

“The good thing here is there’s no rush or panic because you’ve got a competent person doing that job,” he said.

City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch explained that the “interim” title does not legally affect Greene’s duties, responsibilities or powers. She pointed out that “interim” is lowercase in the job title and any document signed by Greene would read “City Administrator.”

If Greene gets the job, council members would have to approve a resolution acknowledging the title change.

Greene is overseeing national searches for the positions of economic development, city development administrator and purchasing director. Joe Zeoli was recently promoted to interim city development administrator, but Welch said he wasn’t interested in a permanent position.

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The city recently published its new organizational chart, though changes will still need to be made. Nikki Capehart, for example, is leaving her position as Urban Affairs Director next week.

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