Commentary: Manager Search Must Be Done Professionally

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.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

anonymous (@guest_68078)
8 months ago

Well said !

Chris subleski
Chris subleski(@oldtimehockey)
8 months ago


Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_68080)
8 months ago


Michael Carabetta
Michael Carabetta (@guest_68081)
8 months ago

We have a golf course and marina that lose money. The airport wants to destroy our soccer fields. The downtown continues to flood. The last manager was hired using a professional firm. So much for that process!

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
8 months ago

Mr. Carabetta, your reasoning is unsound. Do you stop grilling steaks because the last ones were burned? Ms. Kirkland is absolutely correct, that we need to get out of the behind-the-scenes, it’s-who-you-know process, and do a search professionally, comprehensively, and transparently.

Bill Fold
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
8 months ago

If you don’t have anything positive to say then go back where you came from and take your negativity with you!

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_68107)
8 months ago
Reply to  Bill Fold

Bill – this is not. Repeat not, a likes choice. Hard decisions based on competence and objective judgement. We had a great manager that was removed by those who didn’t want him actually doing his job. Lowest common denominator – just what now exists. F.B. is in trouble.

8 months ago

As was pointed out in a previous article by Sueann Thamm – by charter, the FB city manager takes his marching orders from the City Commissioners on budget, goals, priorities, etc. Once a city manager makes his recommendations it is 100% up to the commissioners to accept, reject, reshuffle or otherwise set the course for the city. Your beef is with the various commissioners who have voted to allow the golf course and marina to lose money (since I moved here 11 years ago), the downtown to flood, etc.

Peggy Bulger
Peggy Bulger(@peggy-bulger1949gmail-com)
8 months ago

Thank you Margaret!! You have stated clearly and factually the need for a professional search firm to find the most qualified candidates for Fernandina Beach City Manager. The state of the search currently is so blatently biased and partisan (should not happen in a local election) that the city is in a very dangerous position. Will we survive as a strong and supportive community for all citizens? That is the community we know and love.

Mary Maguire
Mary Maguire(@memaguireaol-com)
7 months ago
Reply to  Peggy Bulger

Federal taxpayers also support Homeland Security, which guards the local port and relieves the city of security payments.

Dave Scott
Dave Scott (@guest_68087)
8 months ago

Ms. Kirkland do you live within the city limits of Fernandina Beach?

Guest (@guest_68098)
8 months ago
Reply to  Dave Scott

If living in the City limits were a requirement, Mr. Nicklas would gladly be silenced.

Mary Maguire
Mary Maguire(@memaguireaol-com)
7 months ago
Reply to  Dave Scott

Federal taxpayers renourish beaches across this country, including those in Fernandina Beach. Federal taxpayers support intracoastal waterways. They also maintain highways, such as I-95 that gets people to the city. They pay for military equipment. See: Mayport. You know this and yet, you continually – and wrongfully – argue that local taxpayers are the only ones entitled to have a say. Idea: Write your congressional representative and advocate for rejecting any and all federal funding.

Alyce Parmer
Alyce Parmer (@guest_68088)
8 months ago

Margaret Kirkland — a voice of reason, objectivity and professionalism. Thank you for articulating so clearly what is in our city’s best interests and why. One can only hope a majority of our politically motivated commissioners will be persuaded by your logic and reason. Please consider running for city commission in the next election cycle.

Richard Timm
Richard Timm(@rtimm-ontheislandgmail-com)
8 months ago

Thank you Margaret. As a career HR professional, I feel you explained exactly what needs to happen.

Richard Deem
Richard Deem (@guest_68094)
8 months ago

Ms. Kirkland, Kudos for outlining the proper approach to recruit and hire a new city manager. The fumbling and stumbling by three of the city commissioners must stop so we can hire the best possible candidate to deal with a growing list of challenges and budget issues.

Bill Calore
Bill Calore (@guest_68102)
8 months ago

This is a well written, well reasoned oped piece that sheds light on a contentious topic, in a respectful and thoughtful manner. As to Dave Scott’s comment, one does not need to live in the city limits of Fernandina Beach, or even be a permanent resident of Fernandina Beach, to have an opinion about the challenges faced by the City or the process that the City is following to hire a new Manager. The more people who care, who have a stake in the process, the better.

Margaret Kirkland
Margaret Kirkland(@kirkland-mrk)
8 months ago
Reply to  Bill Calore

Thank you, Bill. Everything that happens in Fernandina Beach impacts the entire county and particularly those of us on the rest of Amelia Island.

I represent not only my own views, but also those of other members of Conserve Nassau, a nonprofit that has quite recently evolved from the Comp Plan/LDC Working Group. Check out our website at Thus far, most of our members live in Fernandina Beach, although that may evolve in the future.

M Dray
M Dray (@guest_68113)
8 months ago

Excellent points about hiring qualified executive for FB City Manager.
One other point that may need to be pointed out— qualified candidates in current market may be reluctant to apply because they have heard how previous manager was removed. The City Manager professional network is not dumb and blind!

Steve Vogel
Steve Vogel(@stevedec)
8 months ago
Reply to  M Dray

I have been saying that about candidates from the beginning.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery(@douglasm)
8 months ago
Reply to  M Dray

Although I disagree with the way the termination was handled, I believe the “City Manager professional network” is very aware of the normally short shelf life of their current jobs. As Suanne wrote in a March 1st piece (rehash from 2015):

Since the year 2002, Fernandina Beach has been run by managers who have served 3 or more years each. While this may sound terrible to some, in reality, city managers generally expect to serve 3-4 years in a particular position before changes in the political scene and community priorities cause them to move on.

Working for politicians is not a stable job. It never will be. In the last 50 years, Dale had the second longest tenure of any FB City manager. These people understand the perils of the job.

Rich Polk
Rich Polk(@rich-polk)
8 months ago

Margaret is right. We must advertise the position, collect a list of qualified people and, select the best candidate for the job. Fernandina deserves the best leadership possible. Leadership for the people and not just for the special interests of the connected few.