News Commentary: Commission’s City Manager Search Gets Off to a Ragged Start

By Mike Lednovich

Fernandina Beach is searching for its most important executive, the city manager.

Mayor Bradley Bean, who has no expertise in the hiring of top executives, Tuesday repeatedly opposed using a professional executive search firm, which specializes in identifying and vetting the best city manager candidates. Bean pushed his objection to hiring a search firm at least five times during the city commission workshop and voted ‘no’ on issuing a request for proposals to find such a firm.

Bean instead argued that a neophyte citizens committee — composed so far of a paper mill manager, a local attorney, a dentist and a former city commissioner who is a restaurateur and business developer — could do the job as well as a professional firm. “People (city managers) who are looking to work in such a job are aware and ready to apply and we don’t need to spend the $50K on a hiring firm,” Bean argued.

While they may be professional in their respective fields, none of citizen committee volunteers  have the experience to sort through 60 complex applications; conduct extensive background searches; determine leadership and communications competencies of each candidate; conduct interviews and then compile a list of finalists.

“I think that’s total amateur hour. We need to hire a professional,” said Commissioner Chip Ross of the mayor’s push not to spend money for a search firm. “Having a board of five citizens who have absolutely no experience in hiring a city manager: I think that’s really foolish.”

The city’s human resources director has pegged the estimated cost of using a search firm at between $25,000 to $50,000.

There are well documented merits of why cities engage executive search firms to find their next city manager. Naples, Fort Walton Beach, Indianola, Miami Beach, Clearwater, Atlantic Beach, Gainesville, Juno Beach, Pompano Beach, Fort Myers and St. Pete Beach are among the Florida cities that have recently hired executive search firms in their searches for a city manager.

The reasons the majority of cities hire executive search firms to identify their best city manager candidates include:

* They offer a full array of service and relieve city staff, a committee and city commissioners from recruiting/screening chores. Their level of service (and cost) depends on the city’s specifications for the position.

* They actively solicit candidates and have candidates already identified.

* They can dedicate more time to the project than the city can.

* They know the current availability of managers, often throughout the United States, who are seeking a new community.

* They have extensive experience and can verify a track record of success. Many firms offer a one-year guarantee of a candidate once hired, refunding any fees.

 Bean later drew a line in the sand and said any search firm would have to be based in Florida. Commissioner James Antun said he favored “casting a wider net” for candidates and would consider out of state firms in the RFP.

In reviewing the first steps in finding a new city manager, Mayor Bean never mentioned creating a city manager job description to ensure it accurately reflects the city’s expectations and job requirements.  Nor did he mention preparation of a profile of the city manager skills, training and qualities of the “ideal” candidate. Also no review of the present salary range, which is crucial in order to ensure the city remains competitive, was even discussed.  These are the crucial first steps recommended by the National League of Cities. Under Bean’s plan, these tasks would be left to the citizens committee.

 Bean then threw what he called a final ‘hail Mary’ opposing using a search firm.

“I’m confident in our committee, and this committee paired with our HR department will receive a whole bunch of applications. Applications will come in and that will be the funnel. We need people who are interested in coming here and these people will be filtered by this committee.”

Five minutes later, Bean still wanted his way. “I want to reiterate one more time that my plan would be we get these applications and our own citizens would narrow it down and we would come in for the final solution.”  Bean lost the vote 4-1.

So thus far, no process for hiring a city manager is unanimously endorsed by the commission. With Bean’s overbearing objection to hiring professional recruiters, the city commission is a house divided.

With the absence of an organized approach and strong, consistent leadership from the city commission, the recruitment of a city manager could morph into a negative experience with long-term consequences, starting with eroding the city’s ability to attract top-flight candidates for a city manager and other senior staff members.

Is the object to be fast or is it to hire a good city manager? All I hear is speed, speed, speed. Let’s slow down and do it right and get a good city manager,” Commissioner Ross said.  “This process is going to take four to eight months. It’s not going to be any quicker than that.”

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon(@mmonzon)
1 year ago

Evidently, Mayor Bean thinks that all recruiting firms do is post a job and wait for resumes to be mailed in. In reality, a good executive recruiting firm actively seeks out top talent plus all the other activities listed above. Mayor Bean’s inexperience and incompetence are being exposed really fast.

Steve Vogel
Steve Vogel(@stevedec)
1 year ago

Maybe Bean should just apply for the job himself?

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_67556)
1 year ago

And who actually hires the new city manager—-Bean and company—so in the end it is their judgement, not a search firms’, that calls the shot.

Richard Lamken
Richard Lamken(@ralamken)
1 year ago

Search firms do passive recruitment not just active recruitment. They have developed a network of pre-qualified candidates, often previously interviewed for similar positions and fully vetted. Even though I’m retired, I’m continuously getting listings of very attractive positions from several search firms.

Julia Newhouse
Julia Newhouse(@jnewt)
1 year ago

Getting my popcorn ready(ya get what you vote for)

Noble Member
1 year ago

It seems that they should have thought about the time and money required to recruit a top flight replacement for the City Manager before they fired him without cause. I know Sturges had his paper with 23 reasons for fire him, but none those individually or in sum amounted to more that a good reason for a performance improvement plan to align the former City Managers priorities with with those of the new Commission. Now the good citizens of Fernandina Beach are on the hook for the former City Manager’s severance, the interim City Manager’s salary, the costs of recruitment, and the loss of productivity in the interim. An amateur hour performance at tax payer’s expense.

Alyce Parmer
Alyce Parmer (@guest_67565)
1 year ago

It’s a wise leader who seeks the advice of experts. It’s a a naive and inexperienced person who foolishly thinks s/he knows what or even more than the experts know and acts accordingly. The Florida City and County Managers Association and Florida League of Cities are two resources our city leaders should consult on best practices for hiring a city manager. Penny wise is often pound foolish when so much is at stake.

Glen Menzies
Glen Menzies (@guest_67566)
1 year ago

If the City Commission wants to select between currently unemployed applicants, then the committee Bean proposes could probably do the job. However, if it also wants currently employed city managers as applicants then a professional search firm should be hired. Think about it: If you already have a good job, would you want to telegraph to your employer that you are looking for a new job by sending a resume to some leaky committee? Good recruiters are proactive since the best candidates don’t send out resumes; they have to be recruited! And the best candidates have to trust that until the process is well advanced (i.e., down to a very short list of candidates), their interest in the position will be kept confidential.

Suzanne (@guest_67567)
1 year ago

Blinded with stubbornness.

Barton Wiles
Barton Wiles (@guest_67568)
1 year ago

Fernandina is so messed up. We shouldn’t even have two positions. The mayor should be the city manager or vice-versa. That being said, it should be an elected title, not appointed.

Brian Douglas
Brian Douglas(@unclebuzz)
1 year ago

Recruiting a qualified City Manager really starts with good job description. And the job is really for a candidate with a business experience, either in another city or in non-government employment managing a diverse group of employees. Too often cities limit the search to managers with “government” background and that casts too narrow a net in my view.

Christine Harmon
Christine Harmon (@guest_67570)
1 year ago

Excellent synopsis of the FB city commission workshop. I watched and was disappointed to have confirmed the lack of foresight three commissioners displayed when they voted to remove the city manager. Unless this removal was an act of political self interest and the resulting disruptions and costs were taken into account prior to the dismissal?

Dave Scott
Dave Scott (@guest_67574)
1 year ago

Ms Harmon you don’t even live in Florida! Butt out!

Mary Maguire
Mary Maguire(@memaguireaol-com)
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave Scott

So, you didn’t get hold of DeSantis yet? He knows you live in Florida, yes?

Mary Maguire
Mary Maguire(@memaguireaol-com)
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave Scott

Please keep in mind, Dave, that you can’t say with certainty who owns property in the city under an undisclosed incorporation – or two.

Angela Carson
Angela Carson (@guest_67586)
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave Scott

Mr. Scott, what gives you the right to say who has a voice on this forum? Perhaps it is you that should butt out!

Howard P.
Howard P. (@guest_67588)
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave Scott

To quote David Scott, “Things I Wish I’d Said: ‘At a time when anti-black racism has never been less of a factor, most blacks demand reparations, properly described as payments from those who were never slaveowners to be given to those who were never slaves. Schools promote concepts like critical race theory that characterize whites as oppressors and blacks as victims. Some blacks complain about ‘microaggressions.’ If in response to ‘Black Lives Matter,’ a white person says, ‘All Lives Matter,’ all hell breaks loose’.” Really, you wish you had said that?

Mary Maguire
Mary Maguire(@memaguireaol-com)
1 year ago

The search firm that found Mr. Martin also said that it would serve as a liaison between Mr. Martin and the city. It hasn’t been disclosed how many interactions he had with the firm but the commission should ask.

Bill Fold
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
1 year ago

“There are well documented merits of why cities engage executive search firms to find their next city manager. Naples, Fort Walton Beach, Indianola, Miami Beach, Clearwater, Atlantic Beach, Gainesville, Juno Beach, Pompano Beach, Fort Myers and St. Pete Beach are among the Florida cities that have recently hired executive search firms in their searches for a city manager.”

Excuse me, but Fernandina Beach is not even in the same ball park, let alone the same league as the aforementioned cities. This little bitty town could do without a city manager. The mayor and city councilmen should be more than qualified to do the job of a city manager for a town this small. We sure don’t need to blow $50k to search for one that will ultimately be chosen by the mayor and commissioners!
Just let this play out and when it goes to hell then you have a good reason to take out the trash at the next election.

Mary-Catherine Cramer
Mary-Catherine Cramer (@guest_67572)
1 year ago

This Bean Sprout (as his father calls him) is new to city council and really new to being the mayor and needs to slow down hear all concerns and not make rash Decisions

1 year ago

This is not accurate Mike, the commission voted to have an RFP issued to identify a search firm at the end of the meeting by a 4 – 1 vote.

Active Member
1 year ago
Reply to  Dman

What is not accurate? If you reread, it states, “So thus far, no process for hiring a city manager is unanimously endorsed by the commission.” (emphasis mine). I believe he’s pointing out that all 5 have not agreed on the process, which is accurate since Bean voted against hiring a search firm.

1 year ago
Reply to  Dman
  1. TheY set it up so that if they didn’t like yield of the RFP they could allow the citizens panel to select. This is ultimately Bean’s plan. He said it about 6 times. They will squash the RFP. Bean probably already has someone in mind and will count on his panel to get his way. This entire situation was by design.
1 year ago
Reply to  Sheila

a conspiracy? lol

John Findlay
John Findlay(@jfindlay)
1 year ago

Wonder if Bean already has someone in mind and is afraid a search firm might not agree with his favorite.

George Miller
George Miller(@george-miller)
1 year ago

I have to agree with Mike on this. The Citizens team could be involved-and of course the Commission and HR, but searching and vetting are best handled by pros, at least for background checking/vetting.. Unless they already have someone (s) with a good track record in mind.