Marco Island’s search for a new city manager has been fraught with drama. It hit Greek tragedy proportions this week when Bob Slavin, president of Slavin Management Consultants, notified Interim City Manager Gil Polanco that he was terminating his search services agreement with the city effective Tuesday, Dec. 17.
Slavin also informed Polanco that one of the top six candidates — Colin Donelly, an assistant city manager for Dania Beach, FL — had withdrawn his name from consideration for Marco Island’s city manager position.
“Staff will be communicating with the remaining candidates directly to complete the process in anticipation of interviews with Council,” Polanco wrote in his communication with city councilors.
This unexpected move comes on the heels of a particularly grueling session between Slavin and city councilors during the recent December City Council meeting. In fact, five of the seven city councilors expressed their continued disappointment and concern about the now eight-month long saga to fill the position vacated by the retirement of former City Manager Jim Riviere.
Slavin was on hand to provide City Council with an update on the search process, which included a list of 13 candidates who met or exceeded the criteria set by city councilors. In his presentation, Slavin outlined the nationwide recruitment effort and screening of 72 preliminary candidates. Slavin’s Norcross, GA-based firm took over Marco’s quest for a new city manager in September when Colin Baenziger & Associates resigned after city councilors rejected all 137 of the candidates it presented as possibilities to fill the position.
After Slavin finished his presentation, it was clear he too had fallen short of City Council’s expectations. “Frankly, I can only find five people that I would be willing to talk to,” Councilor Joe Batte said from the dais. “ I feel boxed in.” Councilors Larry Sacher, Bob Brown and Amadeo Petricca echoed this sentiment. “I came up with four, and the fifth is a question mark,” noted Petricca.
Disappointment was the word of the evening. There was dissatisfaction with the quality of some of the candidates. One had filed for personal bankruptcy, and at least half appeared to have been forced out of their former positions or were not currently employed.
Some councilors expressed displeasure with Slavin’s process and tools, especially with the questionnaire he used to narrow the field of candidates. Councilors complained that the questions lacked depth and allowed candidates to answer in vague, non-specific terms.
“I read the info five times, and I did not find a single candidate that jumped out as a strong candidate,” Councilor Sacher explained in an interview after the meeting. “We were looking at very vanilla data…None of the candidates gave particularly effusive explanations as to why they want to come to Marco Island. Most said just because of the job opportunity.”
Even so, councilors were able to agree on five of Slavin’s candidates for a short list, as well as the recommendation and addition of a sixth candidate — Roger Hernstadt. The current city manager of Marathon, FL, Hernstadt was an applicant when Baenziger was in charge of the search, but had not resubmitted his information to Slavin. City Council directed Slavin to contact Hernstadt to find out if he remains interested in the position, but it is not immediately known if he did this prior to terminating the search agreement.
Under Slavin, the next step was supposed to be two days — Jan. 14-15 — of on-site visits by the interested candidates. It appears city staff will be conducting that part of the process now. According to Councilor Larry Honig, these meetings are crucial to the search allowing councilors to scratch the surface and to learn more about the candidates.
“I thought it was a good list, not a great list,” Honig said after the meeting. “We added to it, which helped, and, as Slavin said at the meeting — correctly — we don’t know these people. We just have pieces of paper, so it’s important to get them in here, meet them, talk with them, and to do so alone, and then in public, and of course in comparison to one another, no matter how many persons actually do come for the interview round.”