Clewiston to welcome 4 city manager candidates

CLEWISTON — The Chamber of Commerce and city commissioners are co-hosting a meet-and-greet occasion open to the public with the final slate of candidates for the position of Clewiston city manager on Thursday night, May 16.

According to a May 1 memorandum presented to the mayor and commissioners by the search firm they chose to help, Colin Baenziger & Associates, their staff selected eight candidates whom they called “very strong.” The commission met on May 6 to discuss them with Mr. Baenziger and select the finalists. Three were chosen, as well as one additional, from among the eight, and all of them will be requested to attend.

“Any one of them would do an excellent job for Clewiston,” asserted the memo, from CB&A’s CEO, Colin Baenziger.

“Finalists will come to Clewiston for a tour, public reception and formal interviews on May 16 and May 17 with a possible decision on the 17th (or shortly thereafter),” it added.

Mayor Mali Gardner and the Clewiston City Commission have set a special meeting for Friday, May 17, at 1 p.m. to select the new city manager.

When Mr. Baenziger presented the list of candidates chosen by majority vote of the commissioners, Mayor Gardner asked whether they were comfortable with interviewing just three candidates.

Commissioner Kristine Petersen said she believed “there should be three plus an alternate,” just in case. Mr. Baenziger also recommended that, saying that if a candidate dropped out during the intervening time, it would be hard to call in another one or two because of the difficulty of booking travel plans on short notice.

The three top vote getters were: Jeffrey Bishop, John Holman and Leonard Sossaman. Deborah D. Waszak was picked after they conducted another straw ballot where the decision was among the next three vote getters.

City Clerk Kathy Combass reported Tuesday morning, May 14, that Mr. Holman has withdrawn his candidacy.

Gary Brandenburg, city attorney, recommended that the commission formally select those four and include in their motion that they would be reimbursed for travel expenses up to whatever state law allows. The commissioners swiftly signed off on it, in a unanimous vote.

About the candidates

• Jeffrey T. Bishop: Mr. Bishop has been executive director for the Port of Moses Lake, Wash., since 2014. Set in a rural community in central Washington, the port covers over 5,700 acres and consists of a huge airfield, an industrial park with over 60 plants and factories employing over 3,500 people, and a foreign trade zone. It is not a port in the traditional sense of being on the water, but is governed by an elected three-member board and has become one of the key economic drivers for central Washington. Mr. Bishop supervises finance, human resources, planning, information technology (IT), fire department (full-time/contract), security (commissioned officers/contract) and public works (water, wastewater, pavement management and parks). Previously, Ms. Bishop served as the city manager for Miami, Okla. (population 13,513), for two years, the city manager for Blanchard, Okla. (population 7,666), for one year, and the chief executive officer for the Port of Coos Bay for seven years.

Mr. Bishop has a basic humanistic/constructionist approach to managing people. Being patient and asking many questions can often avoid overreaction, he says, and the difficulties it can create. Mr. Bishop’s proudest achievement was taking on a hedge fund and winning. Facing the potential loss of over 700 direct jobs and over 2,000 indirect and induced jobs due to the fund’s purchase of a short line railroad serving the Port of Coos Bay that then was embargoed, everyone was anxious. Mr. Bishop hired counsel and they developed a strategy to do mediation and, when it failed, to file a feeder line application with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (basically an eminent domain action). Only a handful of cases have been successful in the United States. In the end, the port prevailed: The board ordered the hedge fund to sell the line to the port for $16 million. Mr. Bishop has an bachelor’s in political science from Central State University, and he has completed 31 of 36 hours toward a master’s in public administration at the University of Oklahoma.

• John Holman: Mr. Holman has been the city manager for St. Marys, Ga. (population 18,088), since 2014. Prior to that he was the township manager for Springettsbury Township, Pa., (population 26,668), for 11 years. Mr. Holman’s management style can best be described as total quality management. Problems should be thought through and solutions developed that will be effective, he says, while using flexibility since not everything goes according to plan. Mr. Holman is most proud of leading recovery efforts from two hurricanes and developing plans, funding and consensus approval in successfully rebuilding the St. Marys waterfront, which hurricanes Matthew and Irma had devastated. Mr. Holman has a bachelor’s in both history and political science from Villanova University and a master’s in public administration from Bowling Green State University. Mr. Holman is an ICMA credentialed manager, as well as being a certified manager in both Georgia and Pennsylvania.

• Leonard Sossamon: Mr. Sossamon most recently served as county administrator for Hernando County, Fla. (population 186,553), for seven years. Prior to this employment he was county administrator for Newberry County, S.C. (population 37,808), for two years, and he worked for the City of Concord, S.C. (population 48,050) for eight years, serving as the city manager for the last three years of his tenure there. Mr. Sossamon’s management style is marked by adaptability and resiliency as well as leading by example. A good manager will observe, evaluate and adapt strategies with staff in order to move the organization forward through effective collaboration, he says. Mr. Sossamon considers his biggest achievement to be the development of the Concord Regional Airport. The city and Cabarrus County had discussed building an airport since the 1940s. The North Carolina DOT projected that it would take 10 years to build. Mr. Sossamon put together a great team and used some of the city’s healthy general fund reserves and built the airport in 33 months. This airport’s annual contribution to the North Carolina economy is now approaching $1 billion. Mr. Sossamon has a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in urban geography from the University of North Carolina.

• Deborah D. Waszak: Ms. Waszak has been chief of staff, which is comparable to a city administrator, for North Chicago, Ill. (population 29,842), from 2005 to 2009 and from 2014 to present. She also acted as the first village administrator for the Village of Mettawa, Ill., (population 550). Ms. Waszak’s management style is collaborative and coaching. She encourages creative thought and radical transparency while connecting and aligning people to the organizational goals. It has created a true team — leaders who are eager to help and willing to “step up” when necessary and take on additional executive-level challenges. Ms. Waszak is proud that the city’s neighborhood revitalization program has been very successful. They created a “fast track” demolition system and have been able to reduce blight through demolitions or putting properties into productive use. The program has had a tremendous impact on the city’s equalized assessed valuations, which have risen 9 percent since the program inception and allowed for other taxing bodies to refund bonds and improve their bond ratings. Ms. Waszak has a bachelor’s in business and psychology from Lake Forest College and a master’s in public administration from Carnegie Mellon University.

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