City takes 2-prong approach to finding next manager

CLEWISTON — At their regular meeting Monday, Feb. 4, four of the five Clewiston city commissioners came to a consensus that they’ll take a bilateral approach in searching for their next manager.

From their comments, it also seemed that there’s a growing willingness to pay the person considerably more than they have compensated previous managers in order to get a “rock star” who can nimbly undertake the weighty responsibilities and cover all of this small city’s many needs like a rug.

They’d already decided that they wanted Interim City Manager Wendell Johnson to work through a statewide city/county managers group that provides a service called Senior Advisers to help elected officials find candidates with suitable credentials. He’ll continue doing so, but now also have the option to hire a private search firm, or “headhunter,” to assemble a field of people whose backgrounds will be fully vetted and their expertise matched to the Clewiston commission’s job requirements.

Commissioners gave him authority to engage such a firm for a cost not to exceed $25,000; if it would cost more, they would need to approve the move.

A discussion of their approach actually was not on the agenda; instead, during commissioner comments, Julio Rodriguez offered a motion that the city hire a “headhunter” or professional search consulting firm to “hire our next manager,” and it drew an immediate second from the newest commissioner, Melanie McGahee. Mayor Mali Gardner said she understood the Senior Advisors process would give them a list of potential candidates known to the Florida City/County Managers Association (FCCMA) and said Interim Manager Johnson “is committed to helping us out, but again, time is of the essence.”

Commissioner Rodriguez urged that they “think outside the box” so as to find the best person for the job, and the mayor picked up on that by saying, “I am not opposed to bringing on a search consultant to find the right candidate for the position. I just don’t want to do one or the other … I think we should look at doing them both.”

Commissioner McGahee said the consultant approach adds an element of privacy for candidates that might encourage candidates not known to the FCCMA to step forward, so that way “has some appeal” and, she added, “is actually a “very reasonable and a normal expense that cities incur.

”She said she thought it “scary” to rely just on commissioners themselves to select a person when all they’d do is review resumes and sit down for brief interviews with candidates.

Vice Mayor Michael Atkinson agreed, saying “paying the headhunter isn’t a big deal,” but raised the issue of how much they’d pay the selected candidate. Mayor Gardner noted that they did cite a range in their solicitations, and City Attorney Gary Brandenburg said they could just make it “salary negotiable” in any ads.Mr. Rodriguez said,

“If we want to hire the best person available out there … the compensation is going to have to be greater than what we’ve been used to.” Mayor Gardner quickly agreed, “Right.

There’s no doubt about it.”“I don’t have a ceiling for the salary,” Mr. Rodriguez went on. “You’ve gotta be north of $150,000 … whatever it takes … to bring the right guy here.”Commissioner Kristine Petersen was absent.

Lake Okeechobee News reporter/editor Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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