By Margaret Kirkland
Chair, Conserve Nassau
With the current size and projected growth of Fernandina Beach, it is essential that the city’s hiring of a city manager be in line with current professional standards. Simply choosing someone that commissioners know, or have been pressured to hire, without going through a search process is unprofessional. It not only sows distrust in the community but communicates a lack of due diligence and concern regarding quality to the public.
Although most current residents of the city understand how a search process works, either from their experience as an applicant, or from their experience on a search committee or administering the process, it seems that several commissioners have little understanding of the process or its purpose.
The process should solicit as many applicants with appropriate credentials as possible. Some general standards for hiring a city manager come from the city charter. Others are associated with standards of the field’s professional organizations, like ICMA and FCCMA.
Most municipalities seeking a city manager also analyze the needs and challenges of the community and citizen priorities to develop more context-specific criteria. Criteria and preferences are then incorporated into the ad for the position. A search firm then narrows down the list of candidates who meet the criteria and conducts thorough background checks.
Even after going through this process, Fernandina may still find it difficult to hire from their pool of qualified candidates. Fernandina Beach has been short-staffed for years and has had considerable difficulty finding applicants for other positions due to general market conditions and low pay.
A third challenge may be the range of responsibilities a Fernandina Beach city manager must assume. Few have the breadth of experience or expertise to handle an airport, numerous major special events for tourism, a marina, a golf course, numerous leased properties, hurricane events, flood Insurance ratings, Main Street, historic districts, a port, crumbling recreational buildings and a downtown that floods.
Fernandina’s community needs and priorities were identified by the state and by citizens in the state-mandated EAR sessions in 2019 as well as in the extensive interviews and research for the city’s Vision 2045 plan, which included input from many groups.
Failing to complete the professional process of due diligence in hiring a new city manager will not only lower the efficiency of the city, but also make it impossible to hire competent or effective staff in the future. It is absolutely essential that the city manager search be handled professionally, effectively, with transparency and with outstanding integrity.