More than 80 apply for Islamorada village manager position

A search for the next Islamorada village manager yielded more than 80 candidates from 30 states. A candidate evaluation is underway by the village-hired consultant firm, Colin Baenziger & Associates, to whittle the number down. 

Then-manager Seth Lawless resigned for health reasons last summer. That led to the naming of village Finance Director Maria Bassett as acting village manager. 

Recruitment started on March 12 and concluded April 9 with 82 applications received by Baenziger. Interested candidates reside as far west as Washington and north as New Hampshire, and backgrounds range from city manager and county administrator to business manager and sheriff’s deputy.

A noticeable number of candidates hold manager or administrator positions with governments. Approximately 12% of the applicants are female. In a memo, Baenziger states that there are two strong minority candidates. 

“In terms of quality, we are evaluating the candidates right now and it appears we have 10 to 15 very strong candidates,” he said. “We have now begun our background work to determine whom we will recommend you consider to be your next village manager.”

A little more than 20 candidates are from Florida. And of those, one applicant is a Florida Keys resident, Capt. Steve Friedman. 

Vice Mayor Pete Bacheler said he prefers a candidate who’s worked in a coastal environment and has experience with an area of critical state concern like the Keys. Not only that, Bacheler said, the village needs someone who’s going to stay for a while.

“I would like to have somebody with experience in a town twice as big as ours,” he said. “We’ve got a little bit of growing pain, and we need somebody to handle that.” 

Councilman Mark Gregg said he will be paying close attention to background, experience and performance in seeking the next village manager. Dealing with natural disasters and working through budgets are other qualities Gregg will be looking for. 

“It’s super important as a village manager to be able to deal with people, so I’ll be looking for a customer-service-oriented person,” he said. “I think of it as a business. Someone who can be a leader, someone staff looks up to and respects and responds to input he/she provides. And just like a manager has to make his customers happy, he has to make his employees happy too.” 

Gregg went on to say that he’s looking forward to hiring a village manager — and soon. All five council members are new, seated last November. Council members have been operating for the past four-and-half months with Bassett overseeing day-to-day village operations. 

“We’ve been holding back on things because we all want to start fresh and a new vision and long view with a village manager,” he said. 

Once candidate evaluations are complete, Baenziger expects to recommend six to 10 candidates for the village council’s consideration. Semi-finalists will be presented on May 10. Baenziger will meet with the village council virtually on May 20 to discuss the candidates and consider finalists. The council could make its selection on June 2 and contract negotiations would follow. 

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.