050918 WES interim town manager Rooney hh 98.JPG

J. Mark Rooney in May 2018. Sun file photo

WESTERLY — Westerly Town Manager J. Mark Rooney is a finalist for the job of city manager in Panama City Beach, Fla.

Rooney, who was appointed Westerly's interim town manager in April 2018 and named to the permanent post a few months later, is one of five finalists for the job, according to Debbie Ward, the city's public information officer. The finalists are expected to be in the city next week for tours, a reception, one-on-one interviews with the mayor and city council, and a full interview before the full city council. A tentative selection is expected to be made on Dec. 13, Ward said.

Rooney, on Wednesday, declined to comment except to say he applied for the job after being contacted by a recruiter hired by Panama City Beach. Colin Baenziger, the recruiter, confirmed that he had contacted Rooney and asked him to apply, and there was an article on the website of the Panama City News Herald on Wednesday reporting that Rooney was a finalist.

Westerly Town Council President Christopher Duhamel said he learned of Rooney's candidacy for the Florida job on Wednesday morning when residents contacted him. Duhamel said he liked Rooney's job performance here.

"I don't know what the opportunity is for Mark. I can say he has been very helpful in Westerly from my point of view. I wouldn't want to see him leave," Duhamel said. "...I think he's done well here. He has my support."

The Town Council is scheduled to complete Rooney's performance evaluation on Monday. The council conducted aspects of the evaluation in August and September and Rooney recently asked the council to complete it, Duhamel said. Rooney's employment agreement calls for an annual performance evaluation to be performed between Oct. 15 and Dec. 1 of each year.

Under the terms of the conditional offer of employment that is described on the Westerly municipal website as Rooney's contract, if Rooney accepts the job in Florida, the Town Council could order $15,000 of his final pay to be withheld to offset the town's recruitment cost to fill the position. The $15,000 withholding is allowed if Rooney resigns within 24 months of Aug. 2, 2018, the date of his conditional offer of employment.

A retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army Reserves, Rooney had more than 20 years experience working in municipal government in four municipalities and villages in Illinois before coming to Westerly. Rooney currently makes $160,000 per year and qualifies for performance bonuses that can be granted by the Town Council.

Panama City Beach has an estimated population of nearly 13,000 and is on the Gulf of Mexico in northwest Florida, 86 miles east of Pensacola.

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