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It's a deal: Longboat Key appoints Howard Tipton as new town manager

The Longboat Key Town Commission approved the contract with Tipton on Monday. Tom Harmer's contract is extended.

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  • | 5:00 p.m. September 12, 2022
Howard Tipton will start as Town Manager Jan. 30. (Photo by Lauren Tronstad)
Howard Tipton will start as Town Manager Jan. 30. (Photo by Lauren Tronstad)
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Another former county administrator was approved as Longboat Key’s next town manager Monday, but this one hails not from Sarasota but rather Florida’s east coast.

Town commissioners in their first public meeting in two and a half months approved a contract making St. Lucie County Administrator Howard Tipton the barrier-island town's next chief executive, replacing Tom Harmer, who plans to retire from the role in December. 

Howard Tipton has worked for St. Lucie County since 2014. (Photo via St. Lucie County)
Howard Tipton has worked for St. Lucie County since 2014. (Photo via St. Lucie County)

The contract was approved in a vote of 6-0 by town commissioners. District 2 representative Debra Williams was absent. 

"We are delighted to have you here at the beginning of a wonderful relationship," Mayor Ken Schneier said. 

According to the contract, Tipton will not be able to begin his role until Jan. 30, 2023, because of his current contract with St. Lucie County. 

"It is a great honor to be before you today and to accept this appointment," Tipton said following the approval of his contract. "I am looking forward to doing a number of great things; I am excited about the opportunity to follow in my friend Tom's footsteps."

Harmer himself came to Longboat Key in 2017 following a stint as Sarasota County administrator. His predecessor, Dave Bullock, had been a deputy county administrator of Sarasota County for 14 years.

And the similarities don’t end there.

Harmer previously served as the city manager of Titusville in Brevard County, adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center east of Orlando.

Tipton was county administrator of Brevard County from 2009 to 2014, though he and Harmer did not work in the county at the same time. 

While they never formally worked together, Harmer and Tipton have known each other for over 20 years. 


Making the right choice

After touring the town with Harmer, Tipton was able to see for himself what Harmer meant when describing the area as a "paradise." The attractiveness of the area coupled with his interest in continuing similar work on a smaller scale is how Tipton came to accept Harmer's nomination for the role. 

"I love the fact that the team itself seems to be very strong," Tipton said of his choice to pursue the position. "Everything that I have heard from Tom and that I have read indicates that the town runs very efficiently and effectively. The customer service ratings are really off the charts in terms of satisfaction levels."

Harmer in June told commissioners that he did not wish to renew his contract after five years. Commissioners in early July decided the best course of action to find his replacement was to avoid a broad search, instead hoping to connect directly with potential candidates.

When Harmer was conducting his search for the candidate to replace him, commissioners provided him with criteria for the right candidate.

Criteria included a candidate who is a seasoned public administrator, local government manager, someone with experience working in Florida and in a coastal area and someone who would be able to continue developing the relationship between Sarasota and Manatee counties. 

"Howard has all of that background, so it became obvious that he would be someone who met that criteria," Harmer said. 


Considering the contract

Even as Harmer was tasked with putting someone forward for consideration, ultimately the decision was solely that of the commission. 

"This is the commission's decision," Harmer said. "They have all had meetings and discussions with Howard, and I know that Howard is interested and excited about coming, if the commission approves the contract. It is still ultimately the commission's decision." 

Prior to Monday's meeting, Tipton met with all seven commissioners. 

"In my conversations with the commission, they were all very energetic and excited about the projects and things coming in the future," Tipton said. "I thought to myself: what's not to like?" 


Bridging the gap 

Since Harmer's five-year contract ends Dec. 10 and Tipton is unable to assume his new role until Jan. 30, 2023, Harmer agreed to a request from the town to extend his stay. 

"I want this to be smooth, and so I am very much open to that, if that's what the commission wants to do," Harmer said. "It will probably involve a formal extension of my contract for that period of time, so I imagine that will be something we will talk about on Monday." 

In order for Harmer to continue with the town past his initial plans, he requested three items for him to agree to extend his stay.

He requested a 3% merit raise beginning Oct. 1 to honor his extended service to the town, exceeding his contract requirements. 

Harmer has already sold his home on Longboat Key rendering him without a planned place to stay for the commission's requested extension. As such, he requested the town provide him with housing aid and allowance in finding and paying for a place to stay for his additional stay of about seven weeks.  He and his wife Dee plan to move to Central Florida to help one of their adult children with a business venture. 

His final request was to amend the terms of his existing contract to allow flexibility for him during his non-town working hours, allowing him to do work with his son as he intended to due prior to the need for the extension. 

The commission also approved Harmer's contract extension in a 6-0 vote. 


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