Marco Island City Council convened Monday morning at 8 a.m., and spent an hour with each of the five candidates vying for the position of Marco Island’s next city manager. Interview topics ranged from utility management to hurricane preparedness to community involvement.
Council members also had an opportunity to sit down with each of the candidates for one-on-one interviews Tuesday morning. Here’s a look at each candidate’s interview before the full council:
Rick Finn places a strong emphasis on a team-based approach to city management.
It extends to virtually every aspect of his managing style, as he presented it.
He said that in making a presentation to City Council, he will allow a department head to take the reins and deliver the important details of a project that he or she has developed.
"I want those people who did sit down and do the work to actually make the presentation and explain what they’ve done and why they’ve done it, because it’s their program," he said. "Then, when they go back to implement it, they put 100 percent of their energy into it."
He said that team approach becomes especially important in dealing with the public. Every department head has to be on board with the mission of an organization, he said. When a government’s employee base reaches that level of buy-in, it is not hard to communicate with members of the community in an encouraging and helpful way.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Finn, who is currently completing his doctoral degree in public administration, said he has also earned experience tapping the expertise of professionals in the communities he has managed. In his last post as city manager of Takoma Park, Md., he said he had the benefit of many former executives who worked for the federal government in nearby Washington, D.C.
"We got them on committees, which provided help for myself and the City Council in making those sort of decisions," Finn said. "In turn, they are supportive of what you are doing because they are part of it, and they go out in the community and help sell those programs."
Finn said he has familiarized himself to a degree with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine laws, which he said go one step further than those in Maryland. But that is no problem for him, he told the council.
"Takoma Park is a community that prides itself on being totally open," he said. "The type of citizens we had and the community demanded it. I find, personally, that the more open type of government is a much better government."
So many homes on Marco Island are owned by residents from Steve Garman’s current city of Decatur, Ill., that he joked a name change might be in order if he is selected by City Council.
"Would you consider a name change to Decatur la mer?" he asked the council.
It was said in jest, but Garman used the fact that some 70 homes on Marco are owned by part-time Decatur residents to point to his strength as a fit for the job. He also has managed in Florida before, spending time in Pensacola during the 1980s before entering the private sector for more than a decade.
Garman, the applicant in charge of the largest city and budget out of any candidate, also said he would have no problem moving to a city with fewer resources and a smaller budget.
"Size is not a good indication of level of activity anyway," Garman said.
And he is no stranger to activity.
During his interview, he touted his experience with redevelopment, budgeting on a tight dime and fostering employee support.
His application to the city drew an unsolicited letter from a former employee --— who is now a city manager in another state — singing Garman’s praises. However, Garman said he is not one to seek out glory for himself. He instead provided an analogy, borrowed from an author he heard speak once at a conference, to explain his role as a city manager.
"Think of a brick wall. The bricks are the City Council, the cement is the city manager," he said. "The focus is on the bricks. The city manager keeps it all together. It’s not the kind of thing where the manager should be competing with the City Council. The city manager’s only constituency is the City Council. Period."
Upscale communities with educated citizens speak to Richard Gestrich.
He has spent the last 26 years managing just three cities, and he describes them all as possessing the same mix of educated and active residents as well as attractive and cultured atmospheres.
Gestrich describes his current community and Marco Island as "dynamic." But the Middletown Township, Penn., manager told City Council he is also a dynamo at taking a challenging budget and making it work.
"One of the reasons Middletown wanted me was because of a severe crisis in funding," he said. "One of the things I was charged with was bringing stability to that."
He said Middletown operates on a lean budget, with a full-time staff of 107 people serving a population of 50,000. He said he gets that done by cross-training employees and asking them to wear "multiple hats."
When asked how he would deal with the city’s spending cap, the only one of its kind among Florida municipalities, Gestrich said it would be a challenge just like any other.
"I see it as a challenge I can readily beat," he said. "A spending cap is fine by me. I think I’ve probably seen tougher than a spending cap."
He pushed his experience in Florida, in the town of Jupiter Island, as a plus. He said he worked there on beach renourishment, helped the town through Hurricane Wilma and oversaw undergrounding of electric lines.
However, council questioned him on the short tenure of that assignment, where he spent just one year before being wooed away by Middletown.
"Middletown did have a better offer," he said. "I enjoyed my tenure in Jupiter Island. My performance evaluation was a five-star. They rated you like hotels. Middletown did offer me more money, they also offered me relocation expenses. It was the opportunity to work for a community as dynamic as Middletown."
Gestrich said that if chosen for the Marco Island position, he would be committed to the city’s issues and to helping promote "good, quality growth."
James Malloy may speak softly, but he was quick to tell the council he is not timid.
"I have worked with some crusty old guys," he told the council.
On his first day of work in Monticello, N.Y., he said, he was approached by a department head who told Malloy he did not like urbanites, and therefore he did not like Malloy. By the time Malloy left, he said, that staff member was one of his best friends.
"I can work with just about any personality," Malloy said. "It’s one of those things I sort of pride myself on. I’ve been able to work with that whole wide spectrum. What’s good for them is good for me."
Malloy, like many of the candidates, is no stranger to contention. He said he has detractors in Sturbridge, Mass., including four of the city’s current council members.
"For me right now, and this is the only time I’ve been in this position, and it’s an embarrassing way to answer it, but it’s four of the people I work for," Malloy said.
Though the majority of his 13 years in Sturbridge have been pleasant, Malloy said, the current makeup of the council there lends itself to a lot of 4-3 votes.
Still, he said, he has a strong open-door policy.
Also, Malloy’s record in fostering strong relationships between municipal, county and state governments clearly impressed some of his interviewers.
Councilor Jerry Gibson asked Malloy to elaborate on how he recouped millions of dollars in educational funds the state of Massachusetts was distributing inequitably to the state’s municipalities.
It included discussions with the state comptroller’s office, lobbying in the senate and talks with the department of education.
"We filed a lawsuit, which we lost, but it highlighted the inequities in the system," Malloy said. "I don’t hug trees, I don’t pound on tables, but I feel that I provide a very logical well-reasoned position."
Eventually, Malloy said, the state came up with a new formula to distribute education funds. The result was an increase of millions of dollars in educational funding owed to Sturbridge.
As the only candidate currently in the state of Florida, Steven Thompson has something of an advantage.
"I’ve really been involved in my career in almost every issue I like to think that full-service, active communities face," Thompson said.
Case in point was the first question Thompson fielded: how does he bring in the expertise of former professionals living in his community?
"In communities I’ve worked in, the retirees have been the most progressive part of the community," he said.
By tapping the expertise of those community members, many of whom were former executives, he said, the communities were enriched. Those people were often the advocates for stronger parks and schools, he said, though their children had long since left the nest.
"They saw the relationship between doing all of those things and building a quality community," Thompson said.
Thompson also espoused strong communication with his council, particularly on agenda items and future topics of discussion.
"I work on a method of no surprise," Thompson said. "There should be no surprise for you, there should be no surprise for me. I want to make sure we’re constantly talking about these issues."
Thompson also presented himself as a candidate with few foibles and few detractors.
"I’ve worked on my weaknesses and I believe I’ve corrected most of those," he said when asked about his personality pitfalls.
And he said he is not too big of a person to take criticism from residents or council members and correct problem behaviors.
"I’d like to think that I know everything, but I’ve had some epiphanies that that’s not the case," Thompson said.
Thompson, the outgoing manager of Deltona, Fla., said he had done extensive research before arriving on Marco for his interview. It included calling the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce, talking to business owners, reading old news stories and reviewing the city’s budget.
He said he sees issues on the horizon that will be big items to deal with, including completing the island-wide sewering project, working with the city’s spending cap, fostering growth of the Parks and Recreation Department and "continuing to build that sense of community, that sense of place on Marco Island."
City Council meets in a special session Tuesday at 3 p.m. to choose a top candidate. Check back to marconews.com for updates.