Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
July 22, 2015 12:51 p.m.

Colin Baenziger
Colin Baenziger

Following a meeting with city staff and an hour-long Town Hall meeting, Colin Baenziger updated the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) at their July 21, 2015 Regular Meeting on his firm’s city manager recruitment process to date. As of July 17, Baenziger reported receiving 19 resumes from interested candidates. He anticipates that by the deadline of July 31, he will have received 80-100 applications. Baenziger and commissioners also agreed on dates for a public meet-and-greet with the finalists at 6:00 p.m. September 21, 2015. One-on-one interviews with commissioners will follow the afternoon of September 22; group interviews of the finalists will take place in in a public meeting in Commission Chambers, beginning at 6:00 p.m. that evening. It is anticipated that commissioners will make their selection the following day, if not immediately following the interviews.

Baenziger said he was optimistic that as a result of the process, Fernandina Beach will get an outstanding city manager.

The 8-page advertisement for the position may be seen on the Baenziger website: .

Baenziger addresses audience questions during Town Hall meeting.
Baenziger addresses audience questions during Town Hall meeting.

Before addressing the FBCC, Baenziger met with city staff and the public in separate meetings seeking additional input on what the ideal city manager candidate should bring to the job in terms of knowledge, skill, ability and experience.

The advertised Town Hall meeting was poorly attended. Only about a dozen people (including 4 media representatives, 3 candidates for city commission and a sitting commissioner) braved the weather to provide input to the consultant, who expressed a willingness to modify the recruitment ad to include additional information.

In response to audience questions, Baenziger noted that the ad for Fernandina Beach city manager has generated good interest from people who have managed in Florida. While the many attractions of Fernandina Beach itself are draws for applicants, Baenziger added that the local election cycle is somewhat of a negative, because having city commission elections every year tends to suggest a less stable political process. He said that his firm utilizes a 3-step approach to recruiting applicants. They have an extensive database of candidates from which they can draw; they advertise, targeting the International City and County Managers Association (ICMA); and they “go hunting” for those people that they know would be a good fit for the particular position.

Baenziger summarized input that he has received to date from city commissioners and others on qualities that Fernandina Beach would seek in a city manager:

  • Honesty and integrity. The city manager should be consistent in his dealings with commissioners, staff and the public;
  • Good people skills, emphasizing the importance of communication inside the city as well as outside;
  • Consensus builder with an ability to get things done;
  • Strategic thinker who also takes into account what the citizens want and need;
  • Minimum educational requirement: BA degree;
  • 5-10 year track record of accomplishment in city management or comparable field (county manager, military base commander);
  • Prefer a candidate with redevelopment experience.

Audience members also suggested that the successful candidate should have:

  • A good understanding of and track record for obtaining grants;
  • A commitment to continuing education to keep abreast of new ideas and developments that impact cities;
  • Knowledge of Florida law that goes beyond the phrase “we don’t want to get sued.”

The current advertised range for salary tops out at $140,000. Two audience members suggested that the city should look for candidates who require more than that, because such candidates bring a higher level of skills to the position.

Baenziger said that he looks at his job a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, and that if all the pieces fit properly, the selected candidate should be a good fit for the position for 5-10 years. He suggested that ten years is the maximum that a city manager should serve in one position. He said that while he does not anticipate difficulty filling the Fernandina position, if he does not see the right qualities in the applicant pool, he would extend the deadline for applications or discuss other strategies with the City Commission. In light of upcoming city commission elections, Baenziger said that he wants the hiring decision to be made in September if possible to avoid having it become a campaign issue.

Baenziger made some other observations following input and comments from audience members. With respect to recruiting a woman for the position, he reported that only about ten percent of the city manager population consists of women. He also expressed his opinion that communities the size of Fernandina Beach are better off with a city manager-commission form of government than a strong mayor model.

Baenziger:  Biggest challenge for new city manager is bringing community together

In response to a comment that the city manager should not play to divides in the community, but rather should work to build consensus, Baenziger talked a bit about the changing roles and expectations for city managers and elected commissioners today. He said that to be effective, a city manager must be out of his office and meeting the public while being careful not to outshine elected officials. On the other hand, he said that the elected officials today want to be more informed and more involved in city business, looking for a relationship with the manager more resembling a partnership than that of employer-employee. He said that there must be a give and take between the manager and the commission, and that the manager can recommend policy even though s/he can’t make policy, suggesting that when making such recommendations the manager should provide pros and cons. He stressed the importance of transparency and visibility.

Baenziger said that in screening applicants he is looking for experience and longevity, that the applicant understands politics and gets things done.

Baenziger said that he asks for 20 references from applicants, in addition to performing a variety of background checks. He also reads the local newspapers. He said that he expects that most applicants do their own research before applying for the position as well.

Audience members suggested that Baenziger also seek input from the Tourist Development Council, the Nassau County Economic Development Board and the mill managers.

Baenziger ended the meeting after fielding all comments and questions by opining that he felt the biggest challenge for a new city manager is bringing the community together and overcoming divergent points of view. “Building trust,” he said.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’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.

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Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_40832)
7 years ago

A shame that the turnout by the public was so low. Understand the weather was a challenge and the time of the public meeting precluded many working folks, but less than 6 non-candidate/media folks is tragic.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_40878)
7 years ago

A most excellent description of where we live, and issues ahead. Very good and informative.

Marlene Chapman
Marlene Chapman (@guest_40924)
7 years ago

This was a pathetic lack of concern and interest by our community. If you don’t show up to try and help with an issue, please don’t complain about who we end up with as a new CM. This was just a continuation of the poor attendance to all meetings! When will we all wake up and see what’s happening, or not happening, and grt involved?

Ross Gass
Ross Gass (@guest_40931)
7 years ago

The impression that I’m getting is that when its money to be borrowed or people to be fired/forced to resign, the city commission, as elected officials, are following the will of the people and acting on their behalf. When it comes to hiring city staff and getting repairs made, the commissioners are not up to the task and need as much public input as possible. I think I’ve got it. glad that’s cleared up.
And yes, maybe if the meetings (like a lot of the workshops and meetings held by the city and county) weren’t held during business hours, maybe there would a larger number and variety of people present aside from the Usual Suspects and the retired transplant cohort.

Marlene Chapman
Marlene Chapman (@guest_40994)
7 years ago

To address Mr Gass…..maybe it is the “usual suspects and the retired transplant” who are the meetings, but at least they show a sincere interest and concern and voice those in person, unlike others. While some meetings are held at what I too believe are inopportune times, not all are, so where are you and everyone else then? Don’t knock those who maybe have been here a short time, they may know much more and have learned much more than you think! It doesn’t take a life long resident to know when things are going awry and it doesn’t take a long time resident to know everything…..

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