Something as seemingly inconsequential as a month’s delay in searching for Marco Island’s new city manager caused a whirlwind of conversation at Monday’s meeting, all boiling down to one thing: whether to let to new guys do the dirty work.
In the end, City Council opted to allow the new council, as it is elected Jan. 29, to set the stage for the search determining Marco Island’s second-ever city manager in its 10-year history. At the March 17 meeting, after the new council members are sworn in, the seven-member body will undertake the task of narrowing a field of 12 to 18 candidates down to eight or nine.
That will allow the council to make a final decision in early- to mid-April. Interim City Manager Tony Shoemaker, who started work in December, has agreed to work in the city for no longer than six months.
It may not seem like much, but the decision cedes control of the entire hiring process to the council as it will stand in March, following a hotly contested election waged bitterly over four open council seats.
The race has the potential to tip the balance of the council from a majority supporting the island-wide sewering project to one that opposes it. Four of the eight candidates are running under a platform that promises to end the project, while the other four have promised to complete it.
While that one issue only hints at the fissures in the island’s political community, there are other questions of how the new councilors would approach the position of city manager. Some running have been openly critical in the past of former city manager Bill Moss’ management style, arguing that he was too domineering over his council.
At Monday’s meeting, some councilors expressed concern that a shift in the chemistry of the council could affect the kinds of manager candidates the city attracts. In fact, those concerns have dominated discussion of the city’s search for a manager to replace Moss, who recently left for the same office in Naples.
“We’re walking a very thin line between the seven of us that are sitting here now and the seven of us that will be sitting here in March,” said Councilor Ted Forcht.
He expressed concern that allowing the current council even to narrow the pool of candidates would perhaps yield a slate of potential managers unsuitable for work with the newly elected council.
Tom Freijo, senior vice president of search firm The Mercer Group, came armed with two possible schedules for the search process. In the end, the council asked Freijo to fuse the two together, allowing the new council to get the hiring process underway without delay, but preventing any confusing overlapping in decision-making that might result if the new and old councils were both involved in the process.
Freijo mentioned the possibility of allowing members of both the current council and the council-elect to make the hiring decisions. However, that idea was nixed with a vehement rejection by Councilor Glenn Tucker, who has repeatedly aired his discomfort with the idea of the councilors-elect voting before ever being sworn in.
“I have begged to have this process postponed,” Tucker said. “As long as I’m on this council, that won’t happen.”
Though the council voted unanimously to approve the timeline — as well as the salary range of $150,000 to $180,000 — not everyone was satisfied with the compromise.
Council Candidate Roger Hall blasted the council for undertaking any decisions whatsoever on the hiring process. He argued for the city not to engage in the search at all until March, once the new council is in place.
“This is the craziest thing I ever heard of,” he said. “If there was any common sense here, we would simply defer this whole thing until the elections take place. Let those (new councilors) make their own decision. I just think that trying to push your imprint on the next city manager is wrong.”