4 ISLAMORADA MANAGER FINALISTS SET FOR INTERVIEWS THIS FRIDAY

Councilman Henry Rosenthal, then-mayor Buddy Pinder and current mayor Pete Baceheler greet Greg Oravec after he was selected as the village manager on June 2, 2021. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

Four finalists descending upon Islamorada will pitch credentials, experience and other qualities that make them best suited for a manager job that’s seen rather high turnover in recent years. 

A meet-and-greet with the four is set for Thursday, May 5 at 6 p.m. at Founders Park pool complex. A special village council meeting will be called for Friday, May 6 at 1:30 p.m. at Founders Park Community Center to pick the next manager. 

Some council members feel the right person for the position is in the pool of final candidates who will go through interviews on Friday, May 6. But not all are particularly pleased with the process that’s seen a hiring firm assisting the village seek qualified, interested candidates. 

On Jan. 10, then-village manager Greg Oravec tendered his resignation to the council following six months on the job. He cited a lost appetite for the political dynamics that go with the job as part of the reason for his departure. He was hired June 2, 2021 following an extensive search that saw 100-plus candidates submitting applications to the village’s hiring firm, Colin Baenziger. Twelve candidates were whittled to five finalists and interviews saw Oravec sticking out among them. 

He started July 1, 2021 at an annual salary of $169,500. He received  a $13,500 reimbursement for relocation expenses. A housing allowance of $2,000, as well as sick leave and health care, were also included in his package. 

Oravec’s last day was Jan. 27, leaving Finance Director Maria Bassett to take the reins for the second time as the acting village manager. In late August 2020, Bassett took over after then-village manager Seth Lawless resigned due to health reasons. She stayed in the role until Oravec’s first day.

With Oravec’s resignation, pay and other benefits such as the housing allowance were dished out through March 31 as part of a separation agreement. 

Now, council members have another opportunity to select a manager they hope will be the leader for many years. In January, the council advertised the position with a salary range of $150,000 to $200,000. During an April 1 meeting, the dais elected to bring in Charles “Ted” Blackburn, former village councilman; Joseph Kirby, current Benton County administrator; Thomas Yates, mayor of Twinsburg, Ohio; and Lee Staab, former manager of Minot, North Dakota and Grand County, Colorado in for interviews. 

Mayor Pete Bacheler said he has two candidates on his radar as viable picks for village manager. Bacheler selected Kirby, Staab and Yates for final interviews. 

“What’s going to help me decided is watching how they relate and seeing how they respond to questions individually on Friday morning,” Bacheler said. 

Each council member will have one-on-one interviews with the candidates for roughly 45 minutes on Friday. From there, the council will convene for a special meeting at 1:30 p.m. to ask final questions and vote for a candidate to assume the position. 

Councilman Mark Gregg said he hasn’t honed in on a specific candidate or a leading candidate yet. He said he’s looking forward to meeting them in person, talking with them face-to-face and seeing how they respond to questions during interviews. 

“It’s not fair to them or me until all that transpires. But it will be a really good, close horse race,” he said.

Among the matters Gregg wants to hear is how candidates plan to live in the Keys with their families and afford a higher cost of living. 

“It’s a fair and important question to answer,” he said. 

When asked if there’s a candidate who could lead the village of Islamorada for years to come, Councilman Henry Rosenthal said “yes.” But he expressed his opposition to the selection process that asked the council to examine what Baenziger deemed as 12 qualified candidates. Rosenthal said he was part of a group who chose the city manager several years ago that sifted through 75 applicants. 

“It took a couple weeks, if not more, but we were able to choose one out of the 75,” he said. “At the (April 1) meeting, I was not in favor of this company going through and choosing to bring 12 candidates. In addition, I wanted the city to advertise independently of them so we could go through those applicants. Apparently that didn’t happen. If anybody applied to the city, those applicants were forwarded to the hiring firm and put into a pile.”

During the April 1 meeting, Rosenthal selected Blackburn and Julian Jackson as his finalists to bring in for interviews. Rosenthal said he’s seeking candidates who’ve lived in the Keys for “a number of years and have a background in government or business.” 

“That would be my first pick. Right now, there’s only one of them who meets the criteria,” he said.

Of the 62 applicants, five were deemed “local candidate resumes.” Blackburn’s resume was considered local from his time on the dais from 2010-14. Among the other interested locals that weren’t considered for the position were current administrator of Key Colony Beach, David Turner. Brian Klimakowski’s resume states that he’s from Big Pine Key, but his job shows him as current undersheriff for Ocean County in New Jersey. Debbie Pierog, owner/proprietor of Caribbean Cafe & Catering, threw her name into the hat. Joseph Thomas’ resume shows a Tavernier address; He’s a facility manager of International Flavors and Fragrances in New Jersey. 

Village council is welcoming community input throughout the village manager search process. Comments can be submitted via email to the village clerk at [email protected] It will then go to the council members and Baenziger. Emails should use the subject line “Village Manager Search Input.”

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.