Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 26, 2015 3:03 p.m.
On a 3-2 vote the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) at its June 26, 2015 Special Meeting approved Resolution 2015-99 accepting a proposal from Colin Baenziger & Associates at a cost of $24,000 to conduct a search for a new city manager. Current City Manager Joe Gerrity has resigned and will leave his position on October 2, 2015.
City Attorney Tammi Bach reported that the city had received proposals from 5 search firms, ranging in cost from $14,750 to more than $30K. Also, two members of the local community—Burton Bright and Bob Sturges—had expressed interest in serving on a community search committee.
Vice Mayor Johnny Miller, who voted against the resolution, continued to advocate for using a search committee of local citizens in the interest of saving money. He said that such a method was employed previously when Robert Mearns was selected as city manager. He said that the International Association of City and County Managers (ICMA) could assist the citizen committee in conducting the search. He added his belief that Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary would be able to carry out the city manager duties if the citizen committee could not report out before Gerrity’s departure date.
Other commissioners cited the problems associated with citizen committees under Open Government Laws. Committee members must conduct all business in the sunshine, meaning that they cannot discuss candidates’ experience and qualifications or references outside of a public meeting.
Commissioner Robin Lentz, echoing comments of other commissioners, lauded Miller’s intentions. She said that she wanted public input on the finalists also and was expecting to receive that after a series of public meet-and-greets toward the end of the recruitment process.
Mayor Ed Boner expressed fears that a citizens’ committee would politicize the process, creating more division in the community, as opposed to uniting the community around the selected candidate.
Commissioner Poynter stressed that the city manager position was the most important job in the city and that the FBCC should invest in professional recruitment.
During public input, Burton Bright, who teaches public administration, stressed that the FBCC needed to establish a timeline for hiring a new city manager. He suggested that the commission require that the successful candidate demonstrate creativity in approaching the challenges of the job. He agreed that a citizens’ search committee can get “squishy and political.”
Commissioner Pat Gass also voted against the motion to hire Baenziger and Associates, because she favored another firm.
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.