Candidates for the Islamorada manager job met with the village council on Zoom for interviews on Nov. 14. Five members on the council must decide who will reach the finalist stage and visit Islamorada for another round of interviews before an ultimate selection. 

For the past several months, the village has operated under two interim village managers following the council’s 3-2 decision not to renew the contract of Ted Yates, former village manager who was hired in 2022. The county has helped the village by lending Bryan Cook, human resources director, from August to October and then Ed Koconis, permitting director who formerly worked the village, from October to December. 

Maria Bassett, finance director, will take the helm for December before Kimberly Matthews, director of strategic planning and libraries, enters the interim position in early January.  

Instead of seeking a headhunting firm to assist in the search, the council took a different route by advertising the job and fielding qualified candidates on its own. About 45 applications came to the village, with interested men and women from Florida and other states who believed they possessed the credentials to take on the job. From that list, each council member worked with their own liaisons from the community to develop their finalist lists. The council members further reduced their lists by Oct. 25 and provided the village clerk with six to eight preferred candidates for interviews.

Nine candidates appearing on Zoom on Nov. 14 provided an introduction before answering three questions presented to them before they appeared on camera. Evie Engelmeyer, village human resources director, asked each village manager hopeful the same three questions. Each candidate was questioned about the top three challenges facing Islamorada, to which former administrator in Illinois, Douglas Maxeiner, said the functionality of the council. Maxeiner, who spent 21 years as an administrator, said the group must work cohesively to identify issues, make recommendations on the matters and come to some agreement on how to move forward. 

“I think all other challenges to the village are secondary,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to get the functionality of the board up and running and in a more positive direction.” 

Patrick Marsh, who was recently city manager for Fernley, Nevada, said housing for the local workforce stands out as one of the big challenges facing Islamorada. 

“The situation is often heightened by the demand for vacation rentals, which can drive up the property values and rental costs as all of you know,” he said.

Candidates were also asked about their priorities for the environment, community, special interest groups and politics. Angelo DiPierro, financial manager with Palm Beach County, said communication is the key issue. 

“There are many common issues that affect local government, and it’s key to understand all of the issues that affect the community at large,” he said. “I think it’s important for everyone to work together. Teamwork is very essential.”

Daniel Finz, former town manager/senior management consultant for Lawrenceville, Virginia, said he’d work to create a professional environment to ensure staff doesn’t involve themselves in politics. He also said policy is the elected body’s role with staff implementing those policies. 

“I’m trained as a public administrator (with) several years of experience as a public administrator. My job is to work not just for a single member of council but the council as a whole,” he said. 

Candidates were also asked how they plan to succeed in an environment where a council is divided and struggles to compromise and where the tenure of village managers has been short. David Couch, a business administrator for the city of Virginia Beach’s planning and community development department, said he’d maintain open lines of communication and listen to all council members as a whole as to what they want. 

“Obviously, being honest is one of my traits. I like to be as honest as possible without being threatening or intimidating or insulting,” he said. “I want to make sure there are open lines of communication between me and the council but also the council and the citizenry to make sure they have the opportunity to hear from the citizens.”

Candidate David Couch speaks to the council during village manager interviews on Nov. 14.

Christopher Russo, a city manager for Sunny Isles, Florida from 2000 to 2005, said he’s taken manager positions in his career in which previous managers were either terminated or resigned. He said he has experience entering in times of turmoil. Russo also served as a village manager in the New York village of Rye Brook from 1987 to 2000. 

“I’ve always tried to have a good relationship with the village council. The main thing is always communicating and trying to work with the elected officials,” he said. 

Robert Cole, current village manager of Scarsdale, New York said he’d like to understand the root cause of the dissension. He said he watched a recent council meeting where the idea of a retreat was mentioned among the council members. 

“That could very well be a great idea to get everyone together and really talk about what made you want to get into office, for instance, and can we use that motivation and inspiration that drove you to public service to cultivate outcomes to improve Islamroada’s future and maintain its current status,” he said. 

Michael Brillhart, current city administrator for the Ohio city of Wapakoneta, used the analogy of “how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Brillhart, too, said he has experience in jurisdictions that underwent turnover. 

“You look at those small pieces of the puzzle, you work together to do one step at a time each day, you reach resolution on a couple of issues. That gives you trust and determination in the ability to work together,” he said. “Then you move forward on a short-range plan. After a short time when things are accomplished then you work on putting together a long-range plan that requires trust, development, building of collaboration and bringing forward success among the community.”

Fred Ventresco, town administrator for the North Carolina town of Pinetops, wasn’t available for an interview as had a council meeting at the time.

Council members haven’t decided how many candidates will be moving forward to the finalist stage. In-person meetings and interviews are expected to take place in January.

Watch the interviews HERE.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers 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 he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus 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. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.