City Manager Search: Back to Square One

By Mike Lednovich

Executive search firm Strategic Government Resources says it will not provide only a select set of services in recruiting Fernandina Beach city manager candidates. SGR says to obtain its services, the city will have to pay for the company’s full recruiting package.

The city commission, by a 3-2 vote, selected SGR as the recruiting company but with the condition that SGR only provide recruiting, vetting of candidates’ backgrounds and forwarding a list of candidates to the city’s Citizens City Manager Search Committee.

But in response to an email from city HR Director Denise Matson notifying SGR of the city commission’s proposal, SGR President J.J. Peters rejected that plan. This puts the commission back to square one in crafting a plan for the manager search.

“While we have been able to offer Fernandina Beach component searches for a number of department level positions, we only offer our full service search process for positions, such as city manager, that report to a governing body,” Peters said.

“If it would be helpful, we’d be more than happy to discuss the reasons for this and some considerations the commission may want to make as they are deciding how they’d like to proceed,” Peters said in her April 6 email.

“If the decision is made to conduct your own recruitment, we do offer marketing and advertising services as well as some stand alone candidate vetting services, however, please note these services would not include the service guarantee provided with our fully vetted, full service search.”

That means no executive search firm will be under contract when the Citizens City Manager Search Committee conducts its first meeting on April 17.

SGR was among five recruiting firms to submit proposals to the city commission. The ‘a la carte’ vote at the April 4 city commission meeting came after an exceptionally confusing discussion among commissioners on exactly what services SGR was being asked to provide and what role SGR would play in the recruiting process.

SGR’s rejection means the city commission will have to vote again on April 18 on two choices. First will be if the city is interested in contracting with a search firm for a “full blown” recruiting effort. If the commission decides to move forward, then the commission would vote on which of the five firms it wants engaged in the search.

On April 10, Matson emailed SGR, “The full proposal from SGR will be considered by the city commission at the April 18th city commission meeting. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Thank you.”

The April 4 city commission vote in favor of limited SGR services came after an extended and disjointed back-and-forth discussion that led to a reluctant consensus that it might be unrealistic to expect the citizen committee (four of whom are busy working people) to carry the full load of the search, even with some support from the HR department.

Some commissioners also pointed out that search firms know where to find candidates that would be good matches for Fernandina Beach – and committee members don’t. And some pointed out that hiring a city manager will be their most important decision this commission term. Others continued – throughout the discussion – to argue for a let’s do it ourselves approach.

That will be the mix of opinion going into the April 18 commission meeting.

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Richard Lamken
Richard Lamken(@ralamken)
1 year ago

Very smart of SGR. They would be measured by future clients on the results of a search where they played only a narrow, select role. When I evaluated search firms, I called clients who were 2-3 years into the employment of their new executive. I never asked whether they bought the full package or went ala carte. There’s a lot more assistance a Search firm provides after presenting their client with a list of vetted candidates. Is the HR Director a real resource for the City Commission? Has she provided them with a recommendation re: utilizing a Search firm with their full suite of services?

1 year ago

There appears no end to the ineptitude of this Commission. It lies with those who wish to subvert the proper process in recruiting a new City Manager.

At the last meeting, a woman asked “why”? Why, indeed! I think it’s becoming clearer and clearer the agenda of some.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_68284)
1 year ago
Reply to  Sheila

No competence may actually be “their thing”. In this case by probably simple ignorance or ineptitude, but… Why? Who/what entity then wins? Remember, we share the main ship channel to the open ocean with Kings Bay.

John Findlay
John Findlay(@jfindlay)
1 year ago

The Republican members of the City Commission just want to pick the candidate being touted by the utlraconservative group CCDF and be done with it. That appears to have been their plan from the beginning.

Anonymous (@guest_68294)
1 year ago
Reply to  John Findlay


Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_68286)
1 year ago

What is the great harm in not using an expensive search firm immediately?
Mr. George is acting city manager–he is completely capable of running the city until a replacement is found.
If the “go it alone” search fails to find a new manager, perhaps appoint him, or go the agency route.
Cool it, folks.

The Casual Observer
The Casual Observer(@betsie-huben)
1 year ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

Fernandina Beach city taxpayers and all of the city’s employees deserve the very best candidate that can be found. If we are lucky, the best candidate will be with us for a long time and do a great job. Four citizens who have neither the experience nor much time to devote to the task at hand will struggle to meet that challenge. Why would the city not choose a firm that is literally offering a guarantee on their work? I suspect this is not about saving money at all but rather about saving a slot for a predetermined candidate.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_68290)
1 year ago

I have more faith than you in my fellow citizens….time to get on with it and advertize the opening.

Steve Vogel
Steve Vogel(@stevedec)
1 year ago

The clown show continues …..

Jerry Torchia
Jerry Torchia(@agtorchia)
1 year ago

Just another reminder that this group is in over its head. Thank you for your continued attention and excellent reporting. Don’t let up.

Coach714 (@guest_68291)
1 year ago

The circus, with the clown show continues, I just wish the ring master would introduce himself.

Joy Nurmi
Joy Nurmi(@joyliz)
1 year ago

This is so unfortunate. Who would apply to this position after all this messy confusion?

Trusted Member
1 year ago

SGR realized Mayor Bean was trying to use their firm’s prestige and cover without being limited to selecting from that firm’s short list of the most highly qualified finalists. This indicates the Commission majority are interested in access to less qualified candidates that would not have made the short finalist list. SGR and every other executive search firm want no part of these schemes that would severely damage their reputation.

The major conflict now is between the objectives of most citizens to hire the most qualified candidate available nationwide and the Commission majority of three to hire a City Manager with a specific ideology. Professional City Managers avoid politics at all costs and operate in a totally nonpartisan fashion. The City Charter specifically states “The City Manager must be chosen solely on the basis of executive and administrative qualifications without regard to political belief.” Since this prohibits the Commissioners and the committee from asking about a candidate’s political ideology, the only way they would know this is to be already familiar with the candidate. Thus, their unwillingness to seek candidates from afar using an executive search firm. If you can determine a potential candidate’s political ideology it is probably because you are not dealing with a professional City Manager.

Suzan (@guest_68295)
1 year ago

I have direct experience with this situation, having been elected official in a city/town of population approx 22,000, 9 member council, large professional staff including HR, various departments etc… Hiring Manager is THE biggest responsibility one can imagine. Non-partisan, non-petty-interpersonals, etc are crucial. However in my experience, it seems almost impossible for many of the “electeds” to set aside their own political or idealogical identities, when some of them define themselves & their agendas SOLELY on those two things. Very challenging for all concerned, especially the elected officials who DO try to be nonpartisan and objective. It’s frustrating for the citizens who just want things to WORK. Some cliques of citizens are just as guilty of this idealogical, partisan nonsense as some of the electeds. Unfortunately, it is very often these “types” of citizens who jump to the fore & volunteer their time & energy to the process itself. They often dominate the so-called “citizen committees”.

This is why I learned to value the objectivity and performance focus of well reputed commercial search companies. In many respects, they are worth every dollar they
charge. The sad thing is that even when such an entity produces very good qualified suitable candidates, the elected officials & sometimes the citizen committees don’t “like” the results. They simply want WHO they want, for whatever reasons.

Not sure of the answer to this, I’m merely observing…

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery(@douglasm)
1 year ago
Reply to  Suzan

Suzan…your comments are by far the best on this current situation. You touched all the bases in a concise and understandable manner. I agree 200%. I’m not sure of the inevitable answer to this either (who), but you nailed what is going on.