By Steve “Stef” Stefanides
On Tuesday, June 20 in a special called meeting of the Marco Island City Council, the board heard from W.D. Higginbotham, Jr. of the Mercer Group, which has been contracted by the city to seek out compatible candidates to fill the existing city manager vacancy.
The Mercer Group provided an overview of the process, which included receiving 80-plus inquiries regarding the vacancy. In his presentation, Higginbotham reported that a number of those inquires usually are discarded for not meeting the minimum qualifications for the position.
Councilor Roman would provide a little comedic relief when she stated, “Half our island believes they are qualified to be city manager.”
Chairman Honig would inquire of Higginbotham: “Are any of these candidates you’ve presented indicating they are looking for a good place to retire?” Higginbotham would quickly respond, “Not on this list.”
Review of the List
After an overview of the process Higginbotham would move forward to review the top seven candidates of the nine he presented as “top tier” contenders.
Upon his completion of his presentation, Chairman Honig would turn the podium over to Vice Chair Grifoni, who would make a spreadsheet analysis of the candidates.
After completion of his presentation, Grifoni would immediately move to place Joshua Gruber into contention for a finalist position. Mr. Gruber is presently the Chief Legal Advisor to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners in South Carolina, having assumed that position in 2011 and in September 2014 had the responsibilities as Assistant County Manager added to his resume after the former deputy county administrator, Bryan Hill vacated that position.
Prior to that from 2009 to 2011 he served as the Assistant County Attorney in Berkeley, South Carolina, which is north of Beaufort County, after closing his sole-practitioner law office and entering into government service. An Ohio native, he was admitted to the South Carolina Bar Association in May of 2008 and was a 2007 law school graduate of Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio in 2007. He had previously studied for a political science degree from Clemson University and received a Master’s Degree from Georgia State.
Prior to council choosing the Mercer Group as a search firm, Vice Chairman Grifoni had requested permission to move forward to discuss the Marco Island position with Gruber, who had been earlier seeking the open city manager position in Fort Myers Beach. It would be councilors Roman and Brown that would agree that the open process be followed at that April 17th meeting when Mercer was hired, and council would agree to have any potential applicants submit resumes to the Mercer Group. “If there is any appearance that resumes are floating amongst councilors and being handled in a personal way rather than respecting the process, we will have demonstrated something less than our standards to be,” said Roman.
When assuming his expanded role in Beaufort County it was widely speculated in local publications that he was the heir apparent to the present County Manager Gary Kubic and this last year would have acted as a transitioning period as Kubic would bring his over decade long service in that position to a close. It was unclear what had changed if anything, but it was common knowledge Gruber had been a finalist for the Fort Myers Beach job back in Beaufort.
Council would vote 6-0 to invite him as a finalist. Councilman Batte was absent.
Second Invitation Loses on Tie Vote
After inviting Gruber, Councilor Reed moved and Councilor Roman seconded his motion to enter the name of Garrison Brumback, who presently holds the position of City Manager in Southington, Connecticut for almost seven years as another candidate they would like to learn more about.
However, that nomination ran into objections from Council Chairman Honig. “I am going to tell you why I am reluctant to advancing this guy. He is a few years from retirement. He could be four years from retirement. So he is going to come down here and he’s going to retire. He is the guy I asked about at the beginning of the thing. He is going to want to find a nice Florida place; be paid 150 grand to live in a nice place, bring his Connecticut home money down here to buy a nice place and have a great time.”
After making those remarks, Honig followed on by saying, “I don’t mean any of this to demean the man, besmirch his character, nothing to do with that and I hope that is clear. I am just talking about the kind of man that I would like to see as the next city manager for Marco Island.” Honig added, “I would like to see someone that is here for a decade and not gone in four years.”
Brumback had served for seven years as the Assistant City Manager in Clearwater, Florida and was the only applicant to have Florida experience, which council had originally seen as an important attribute in seeking a new manager. He left Clearwater to accept the City Manager’s spot in Baytown, Texas on the Gulf Coast before moving on to Southington, Connecticut in 2010, where he has been for the last seven years.
During the intense storm years of 2004 and 2005 he headed the planning and preparations for Clearwater, and the recovery efforts regarding Hurricane Georges and Charley for the city.
Brumback did spend 20 years in the U.S. Army prior to retiring at the end of 1998 before assuming his position with the City of Clearwater, and left his final position as Battalion Commander at Fort Hood, Texas.
He holds a Master of Science in International Relations from Boston University, has a B.S. in Economics from the Virginia Military Institute, in addition to studies at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
He has been a credentialed city manager with the ICMA since 2005.
The drawback some saw was that he was at the top of the advertised salary scale, however Higginbotham sought to assure councilors that he had discussed that issue, and due to the lower cost of living in Florida that was not going to be a problem, the applicant felt comfortable with a package more in line with some of council’s thoughts.
At the end of the discussions Council Chair Honig, Vice Chair Grifoni and Councilor Rios would vote no on continuing the dialogue with Mr. Brumback. Councilors Reed, Roman and Brown were in favor of extending an invitation to him.
Second Invite Made, But Withdraws
The only other invitation that was made after the marathon session on June 20th was to invite Tony Hamaday, who is presently the Township Manager, Marple Township in Broomall, Pennsylvania to come and be interviewed for the open position.
Hamaday has a Master’s in Public Administration from Villanova University and a B.A. in Political Science with a public administration concentration from West Chester University.
He has spent his entire career in the Pennsylvania area in various governmental positions since 1990 ranging from code enforcement to his present position.
This caused Councilor Brown to question the lack of experience regarding coastal community management and those special needs sets, as to whether it would be a proper match.
The board would vote 5-1 to invite him to join Joshua Gruber as the only other candidate. Gruber had received a 6-0 vote for a call back.
The next day Hamaday would decline the secondary interview.
Council does not meet again until July 17, and the intent was to bring in the two candidates for a meet and greet with the public on July 18 (at a location and time to be announced), and interviews and final decision at a special called meeting on Thursday, July 19, 2017.
As more information is obtained please check for updates at the Coastal Breeze News Website at www.coastalbreezenews.com for up to date information on this and other breaking island news.