Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
The Fernandina Beach City Commission held a special meeting at 9:00 a.m. on June 21, 2013, to determine a course of action for filling the City Clerk position, which has been vacant since the retirement of City Clerk Mary Mercer in January.
The job was first advertised soon after Mercer’s retirement. But although more than 20 applications were received, the FBCC declined to make an appointment at that time for budgetary reasons. They instead moved to appoint a Clerk Pro Tem to serve until the FY2013/14 budget picture could be clarified. Currently, that position is held by Deputy Clerk Kim Briley who was appointed City Clerk Pro Tem at the June 18, 2013 FBCC meeting. The FBCC appeared in agreement to continue the status quo until the position can be filled on a permanent basis, effective October 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Commissioners devoted a little more than an hour to reviewing the current job description, the last vacancy announcement and City Charter language reflecting the duties and responsibilities of the city clerk.
The City Attorney, in response to Commissioner Ed Boner’s question regarding the specifics of the recruitment process, indicated that job vacancies are first advertised in house to let city employees have the first opportunity to apply. Boner indicated that he would be looking in house to save money.
Commissioners wanted to make sure that potential applicants would be clear about position requirements from the vacancy announcement itself. City of Fernandina Beach Human Resources Director Robin Marley assisted them in interpreting various procedures and terminology used in the recruitment process. City Attorney Tammi Bach, City Manager Joe Gerrity, and Clerk Pro Tem Briley also offered advice and guidance as requested by the commissioners.
Commissioner Arlene Filkoff seemed determined to reach consensus on the absolute minimum standards that applicants must meet to be considered qualified. There was more discussion regarding “knowledge and experience in archives and records management” than any other qualification. Filkoff believed such a requirement was essential. Commissioner Ed Boner received assurances from City Attorney Bach that the function of records management was an area of significant liability for the city, if not carried out properly. Mayor Sarah Pelican and Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett appeared to agree with Filkoff and Boner, while Commissioner Pat Gass seemed to feel that the terms “knowledge and experience” were too vague, and that an individual could be trained to do this work on the job.
Commissioner Boner disagreed, saying that “management” of the function implied that the individual had sufficient knowledge and experience to be able to direct other office employees in the performance of records management duties. Marley added that screening for the appropriate level of records management and experience would probably occur during the interview phase of the hiring process.
Commissioners seemed to waiver on the degree requirement. Commissioner Boner claimed that having a degree guaranteed a certain level of skill with respect to written communication. Others believed that since previous, successful Fernandina Beach Clerks did not possess academic degrees, experience could substitute for education.
There was some discussion regarding the City Charter and whether it sets up the three Charter Officers (Manager, Attorney and Clerk) to work against, as opposed to with, each other, Commissioners agreed that they would be looking for professionalism and maturity in city clerk candidates to avoid this misinterpretation of the “checks and balances” intent of the City Charter. Commissioner Gass also raised Charter concerns because the clerk no longer reviews every outgoing check, but only reviews a random sample. City Manager Gerrity and Pro Tem Clerk Briley explained the extensive level of review conducted by the city, seemingly alleviating Gass’ concerns.
Final points of agreement among the commissioners for changing the previous vacancy announcement included the following requirements:
- Knowledge and experience in archive and records management, with Florida experience preferred;
- Preferring, but not requiring, a Bachelor’s Degree in an appropriate field;
- A strong work ethic.
Commissioners also wanted to make clear to potential applicants that the successful candidate would be expected to personally attend all FBCC meetings, many of which are held evenings, in the capacity of recorder.
Commissioner Gass asked if the FBCC intended to return to where it was when they decided to hold off on the hiring of a clerk for budgetary reasons. She wondered if they would sort through the applications on file to proceed. Both Bach and Marley advised that the city re-advertise because of both the length of time that has passed since the initial posting and the change in requirements. Marley will contact the initial applicants to determine their continued interest in the position.
Commissioners discussed the current salary advertised for the position. Marley advised that the position description and salary range resulted from a 2009 salary review conducted by an outside firm with extensive knowledge of Florida government positions and appropriate regional salary ranges. Commissioners decided to reset the minimum at $53,000 while leaving the maximum at $70,200.
Human Resources Director Marley recapped the commissioners’ desired revisions to the vacancy announcement and indicated that the revised item will return to the FBCC for final review at the July 2, 2013 regular FBCC meeting. Once the item is approved, the city will begin re-advertising with an anticipated start date of October 1, 2013.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.
June 21, 2013 2:53 p.m.