By Noelle H. Lowery
The Marco Island City Council hit the reset button on its search for a new city manager.
During a special meeting earlier this week, the council approved measures that accept current City Manager Jim Riviere’s resignation effective September 30; accept the immediate resignation of executive search firm Colin Baenziger & Associates; begin the search anew with a different search firm, preferably Slavin Management Consultants of Norcross, GA; and meet again Monday, Sept. 23 to discuss and possibly name an acting city manager until a permanent one is hired.
“I want you to understand that as far as I am concerned I reject this entire process,” Chairman Joe Batte told his fellow city councilors. “I am not happy with this process. I think what we have here is a flawed process… We need to consider doing this again. We can’t screw this up. I will personally go no further in this process because this ain’t right.”
The council’s move surprised some. A sense of urgency has engulfed City Hall to find a replacement for Riviere since he announced his retirement in April. Further, just a month ago, Colin Baenziger himself reported being pleased with the search process. “I am also comfortable, based on the candidates I have spoken with, that we will have a very strong field to work with,” he told city councilors in a recent email.
Others, though, were not shocked and even agreed with Batte’s assessment of the process. The reason: None of the 137 candidates provided to the city met the requirements set forth in the brochure advertising the position. In fact, at its September 3 meeting, the City Council rejected Baenziger’s original short list of 21 candidates altogether. Councilors continued this trend at the special meeting, tossing aside an additional eight candidates who had not applied for the city manager position but to whom Baenziger had personally reached out.
“I personally cannot get enthusiastic about any of these candidates,” Councilor Larry Honig said of the new field of eight.
Councilor Amadeo Petricca confirmed the sentiment: “I am all for throwing this one to the wind. We are looking for the best, and that is what we need for this city. We need a professional city manager that understands the ins and outs of running a city in Florida, especially a city in Southwest Florida… We are between a rock and hard place. It is a tough decision, but that is why we are here — to make the tough decisions.”
Tough decisions duly noted, council members will nominate and discuss possible candidates to appoint acting city manager at the special council meeting next Monday. This individual will run the city with the help of city council and would most likely be a current member of the city’s management team. Council also will outline specific terms, tasks and responsibilities for the acting city manager. Names already bandied about include to fill the acting city manager slot include City Clerk Laura Litzan and Finance Director Guillermo Polanco.
Members of the community also weighed in on the issue, recommending City Council also consider allowing community members to be considered for acting city manager. “Maybe you should do a search on this island,” suggested Ray Seward, chairman of Marco Island Property Owners. “Maybe someone on this island would be willing to take the position of (acting) city manager.”
Fay Biles of the Marco Island Taxpayers Association Inc. seconded the notion. “There are a lot of people on this island that might be interested if you would open it up to them,” she added.
Still, councilors Ken Honecker and Larry Sacher had words of caution for the process. “How many of us are being unrealistic here,” wondered Sacher. “There is a limited number of city managers in the pool. I want the best candidate I can find also, but there is a limited pool. I am concerned that now we are not going to look very good in the eyes of potential candidates.”
Whoever will be in the running, Batte encouraged all council members — more than once — to do their due diligence prior to coming to Monday’s meeting. “I implore you to do your due diligence. We don’t need to make it anymore difficult than necessary. We have a job to do so go out and do it.”