The Weekly has reported on the ongoing conversation about who will replace current City Manager Jim Scholl, whose contract was recently extended to Oct. 1. Assistant City Manager Greg Veliz is the obvious next-in-line choice for the position, but officials are also positing that a state or nationwide search is the proper course of action for the crucial position. At the city commission meeting May 7, parties staked out their territories that fell broadly in the camps: hire from within the existing city government vs. conduct a search for the position. The discussion became heated enough that Mayor Teri Johnston advised everyone to “Take a deep breath” before proceeding.
Here, we’re featuring prominent proponents of each position. District 2 Commissioner and attorney Sam Kaufman weighs in on the importance of a search, while businessman and restaurateur Danny Hughes writes on the value of hiring from within. As we move through hurricane season and setting a budget for the city, the value of a well-qualified and effective city manager will only become more apparent. With four months left to make the hire, let the conversation continue.
The great thing about Key West? We’re always up for a lively debate.
The Next Key West City Manager: A Perspective
by Danny Hughes
Mr. Scholl’s successor seems to be on a lot of people’s minds, so instead of repeating my thoughts when asked, I thought I would do what I normally do — speak my mind:
The new city manager should absolutely be chosen from someone already working for the City of Key West or Monroe County. The only exception to this is if there is absolutely no person qualified for the city manager’s job working at those two institutions. Based on my experience of running companies with a combined payroll of 500+, as well as my tenures in public institutions, here are the reasons for my statement:
MORALITY, LOYALTY and AMBITION:
If someone devotes 15, 20, 25 or more years to an institution, they have earned the right to be considered first for a promotion. I find it morally wrong to disqualify someone because of some fanciful notion that “something better” is out there, somewhere. Not only that, but put yourself in the shoes of someone who has devoted all those 15, 20, 25+ years to an organization: You knock their legs out from under them, you pollute their ambition, and you pollute the ambition of every other member of your organization. When your entire organization knows that they can elevate themselves, and not be knocked out of line by an outsider, you will have a better organization. And the only way people can predict how a leader(s) acts is by seeing how that leader(s) has already acted.
Have we not been down this road before? Like, less than a decade before? The last time Key West went “outside” for a city manager, it was disastrous and cost the city a lot of money. “If we are not students of history, we are doomed to repeat it,” as the proverb goes.
EXPERIENCE WE ALREADY HAVE:
Before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, I had the privilege (?) to serve as chairman of the Property & Insurance Committee for the Port of New Orleans; while at the same time owning the company that provided the largest number of electrical linemen to the utility in the state of Louisiana. After Hurricane Irma, our restaurant was among the first to open in Old Town (if not the first). I can fill you in with stories about Katrina, but nothing compares to experiencing it firsthand. The current staff at the City of Key West handled the restoration after Hurricane Irma better than any other organization I have ever witnessed. Period.
The next city manager should come from within, and we will have a better city organization for it. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past (again). Lastly, we have outstanding people with outstanding experience that is unsurpassed in the toughest of times.
The City Manager Search
by Sam Kaufman
To search or not to search, that is the question – for the next Key West city manager that is. A professional search is our best option!
The city manager (CM) is appointed by the city commission to lead the day-to-day operations for the city. Our city is a large and complex organization with close to 500 employees and a $185 million annual budget. The next CM will need to build upon the successes of our current CM and the successes of our current city staff working in more than a dozen city departments. The selection of the next city manager is the most important decision the sitting city commission will make. This decision will have an impact upon Key West residents’ lives for the next five or even 10 years, so we need to select the best candidate for the job to successfully lead the city.
The CM’s responsibilities are vast, sometimes complex, and require professional skills to successfully implement city policy and oversee operations. Some examples include oversight of the building department, the planning department, the police and fire departments, public works and facilities/park and recreation department, risk management and human resources departments, parking department, the transit department, the sewer, stormwater and solid waste fund operations, port and cruise ship facilities, coordination with other government agencies and more. This includes oversight of development projects, the implementation of the land development regulations, maintenance of our streets, sidewalks and all public facilities, insurance policies and claims, negotiations with collective bargaining units for police, fire and other union employee organizations, development for the transportation development plan, the Bahama Village and Caroline Street Corridor community redevelop agencies, and all capital projects.
Retaining a professional search firm provides the most comprehensive process to select the next CM. Cities and counties throughout Florida use search firms to select their administrators. A search firm is best equipped, more than any other option, to recruit the most qualified candidates with the attributes, knowledge, skills and abilities needed for this position. Search firms develop the advertisement and position profile to be reviewed and approved by the city commission, and coordinate the application process and interviews of final candidates.
Here are some of the desired characteristics we should be looking for: strong fiscal management experience including understanding public financing; technical experience with and knowledge of municipal operations including emergency management; excellent communication skills and building consensus; customer service oriented, commitment to long-term and strategic planning; experience with redevelopment and economic development; someone who is outgoing, positive, proactive, innovative, even-tempered, and who will timely execute commission policies.
The best candidate will be a CM who will effectively address the concerns of our residents. Engaging a search firm to facilitate the process to identify the best candidates for the city commission to consider will be the most beneficial. And this process needs to be professional and fair for everyone, including those who apply from within City Hall.