Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm announced during Wednesday night’s City Commission meeting that he will retire in 12 months.

DAYTONA BEACH — City Manager Jim Chisholm — who since 2004 has led the city through a half-dozen hurricanes, a protracted recession and a recent blast of growth and major new development — plans to retire in one year.


Chisholm, who will have served longer than any other Daytona Beach city manager by the time he steps down, shared his decision at the end of Wednesday night’s City Commission meeting.


"When I was hired, we rolled up our sleeves and immediately addressed serious, divisive community and financial issues including racial tensions, high crime rates, budget deficiencies and aging infrastructure," Chisholm said in a written statement. "Today, Daytona Beach is in a very strong and positive position."


The 75-year-old Chisholm will remain in his post as the city’s top government official while city commissioners search first for a job candidate headhunter and then a new city manager. City Commissioner Rob Gilliland estimates the full process could take six to 12 months.


When Chisholm walks out of his corner office in City Hall for the last time, it will be the end of a 46-year career leading local governments, mostly in Florida.


"I am proud of the significant improvements made throughout our entire community," Chisholm said in the statement released by his spokeswoman. "We’ve been able to initiate and complete transformative projects, which will shape the future of this great city for generations. I will always love Daytona Beach."


In keeping with his habit of saying very little at most City Commission meetings, Chisholm attempted to make his retirement announcement a succinct one-sentence statement.


"I want to indicate to you that it is my intent to retire in March of 2021," Chisholm stated matter-of-factly, stopped talking and leaned back in his chair.


"Uh, is that it? Is that all you’re going to tell us?" asked Mayor Derrick Henry, who along with the rest of the Commission had been told in private meetings with Chisholm this week that the retirement announcement would be made at Wednesday’s meeting.


"Well, I had a whole list of things to tell you, but I wasn’t going to bore anyone," Chisholm responded.


After Henry asked Chisholm to elaborate, the city manager spent about five minutes reading a two-page letter addressed to the mayor and commissioners.


The letter began with a thank you to Henry for his leadership on recent growth and his key role in steering the opening of the new First Step homeless shelter. The letter went on to list the city’s dropping unemployment rates and increased numbers for new construction permits and spending, which has tallied $2.25 billion in the last five years.


Also listed were high-dollar improvements to city properties and several large new developments.


Chisholm grew up in Florida, and in 1974 he became Leon County’s assistant county administrator. From 1982 to 2004, he worked as a county administrator for St. Lucie and DeSoto counties, and as city manager in St. Cloud, Islamorada and South Padre Island, Texas.


The Daytona Beach City Commission of 2004 hired Chisholm in August of that year.


Those who know Chisholm best and have worked closely with him for years showered him with praise when asked about his decision to step down.


"He’s been one of the best city managers I’ve ever heard of or been acquainted with in this area," said Glenn Ritchey, who served as Daytona Beach’s mayor from the end of 2006 until late 2012.


"It’s going to be hard to find someone who has the passion, dedication and knowledge he did," said Ritchey, who considers Chisholm one of his best friends. "No matter how many projects were going on, he seemed to be on top of it."


Ritchey said Chisholm did a lot behind the scenes to position Daytona Beach for the improvements over the past decade and "made a mark on this community."


"He caught waves and didn’t miss opportunities," said Ritchey, who is president and CEO of one of the nation’s most successful automobile empires.


Chisholm’s love of the town of 65,000 drove him to make it the best he could, Ritchey said.


"He always had Daytona Beach’s best interest at heart," the former mayor said. "He was very protective of Daytona Beach. He never allowed us as a city to be pushed around."


Sheriff Mike Chitwood, who worked under Chisholm for more than 10 years as the city’s police chief, said last year he "never worked for a better boss."


"He has amazing foresight," Chitwood said last summer. "I think the world of him. When Jim Chisholm got here, this place was in economic chaos. A lot of good things have happened under Jim Chisholm’s watch."


City Commissioner Quanita May said she’s grateful for the improvements Chisholm has helped with in her zone and she’ll miss working with him. City Commissioner Ruth Trager said Chisholm has "done a magnificent job."


Gilliland said he doesn’t feel anyone on staff, including the three deputy city managers, has Chisholm’s breadth of knowledge and can fill his shoes. He wants to use the next year to carefully choose a successor and have Chisholm help the new leader transition into the role.


Chisholm gained respect from local leaders as he worked with them to create mega projects such as the $400 million revamp of the Daytona International Speedway grandstands, One Daytona commercial and residential complex, Tanger Outlets mall and new oceanfront hotels and restaurants. Also under his watch there is a rebirth of the downtown happening that will include a new headquarters building for Brown & Brown, Inc., the $18 million reinvention of Riverfront Park and two large projects that promise to bring new apartments, parking garages, office space, restaurants, a grocery store and retail.


On the west side of town, there is the new Amazon last-mile delivery station and the Trader Joe’s distribution center. And in the central city there are two new community centers.


"I’m in a mood of celebrating what he achieved," Henry said.


But Chisholm has had his critics, including some past city commissioners who launched failed attempts to fire him. When Chisholm underwent his annual written evaluation in the fall of 2011, three city commissioners had some blunt criticisms that questioned Chisholm’s ethics, trustworthiness and ability to work with commissioners rather than around them.


The threat was real enough that it spurred Chisholm to start looking for a new job. In November 2011, he made the short list for the position of Sarasota County administrator but then took himself out of the running.


In December 2011, he made the short list for the Hollywood city manager vacancy but didn’t make the final cut. And in the spring of 2012, he tried to become the city manager of Sarasota but that didn’t work out, either.


There were other murmurs over the years of commissioners wanting to show Chisholm the door, but there were never the required five votes to oust him.


In August of last year, a small group of local citizens led a short-lived effort to have Chisholm removed from his position.


The local activists were unhappy with everything from the cost of the First Step Shelter project to continued blight on the beachside, and they targeted the person they held responsible: Chisholm.


The group, a political action committee called Sons of the Beach and Friends, distributed about 50-100 yard signs that said "Fire Jim Chisholm." They also protested in front of City Hall before an August City Commission meeting started, hoping to pressure Chisholm into retiring or city commissioners into firing him.


Ken Strickland was the political action committee’s chairman. On Thursday Strickland said he doesn’t see Chisholm’s departure as any loss to most residents.


"The truth is he has probably been very beneficial for the powers that be, but as far as the taxpaying residents of this town, he couldn’t leave soon enough," said Strickland, who’s making his second attempt at becoming Daytona Beach’s mayor.


Strickland accused Chisholm of "basically silencing the citizens" by moving general public comments to the end of City Commission meetings.


Local radio talk show host and former Volusia County Councilman Big John is also not a fan of Chisholm.


"We never know what he’s doing because everything is top secret," Big John charged Thursday.


He suspects the area’s most powerful leaders, not the city commissioners, will be the ones with the most say over who becomes the next city manager.


"Let’s hope it can’t be any worse," he said.


If a City Commission had ever fired Chisholm, the contract he entered into in July 2004 states Chisholm would be entitled to a lump sum cash payment equal to six months of his current salary. Chisholm’s annual base salary is $240,100, he has an auto allowance of just under $12,000 and his health insurance benefits are worth $36,000.


With the volatile atmosphere of politics, city and county managers are often pushed out or resign under heavy pressure in less than 10 years. Chisholm was able to navigate through the arrows hurled at him and keep doing his job as he saw fit for as long as he chose.


Those closest to Chisholm say his retirement is a decision he’s been mulling over for the past couple years, and he decided next March felt like the right time to step down.


"In his retirement, Chisholm looks forward to spending more time with his wife Tina, his daughter, Rebecca, and their two dogs, Abigail and Buddy," city spokeswoman Susan Cerbone said Wednesday night in a written statement. "He plans to spend more time enjoying and pursuing his hobbies including golfing, fishing and traveling."