MARCO ISLAND — In a swift decision, supported by the public in attendance, Marco Island City Council selected Jim Riviere as the new interim city manager on Friday morning.
Riviere was to serve as chairman of the Planning Board at 9 a.m. on Friday, but instead, council decided he would begin his duties as top dog at 9 a.m. A contract with his salary was not available as of press time, reported City Clerk Laura Litzan. City Manager Steve Thompson’s annual salary was $160,000.
Thompson was fired by council, effective in 30 days, on Monday night in a 4-3 vote.
“It’s a very comfortable feeling to know you’ll be there,” Chairman Frank Recker said to Riviere.
Recker described Riviere, 68, as a well-known and respected person in the community and in City Hall.
“It (City Hall) is going to be an open house. It’s going to be the people’s house,” Recker said.
Council’s decision was unanimous (7-0) and made within about 15 minutes on Friday morning.
Riviere said he was flattered and accepted the position. He said he had no interest in the long-term position.
“I will do my dead-level best to meet your expectations,” Riviere said.
Several residents, of which there were about 15 at the meeting, spoke in support of Riviere and asked that he consider the permanent position.
“Can we make you an offer you can’t refuse to be a full-time manager?” asked resident Rick Feinman.
“Not today,” Riviere replied.
Mirroring Feinman’s sentiments, resident Jay Santiago suggested Riviere be offered the permanent job after one year.
The action was coming a little too fast, said City Councilman Jerry Gibson. “I’d kind of like to put the horse back in front of the cart here,” he said.
Riviere’s compensation was among the things that should be discussed before approving his placement, Gibson added.
The retiree said money wasn’t an issue for him, although he didn’t plan on volunteering.
There was not a formal application process for the interim city manager position. Instead, Riviere said he talked to several council members individually.
“I didn’t beg and they didn’t come over and tackle me,” he said.
Riviere served on the City Charter Advisory Committee and Financial Advisory Committee, among other city boards in recent months and years.
He was the campaign chairman for former City Councilman and 2010 candidate Ted Forcht.
“He (Riviere) had his finger on the pulse of everything going on in town,” Forcht said.
Riviere has been an Island resident since 2002, after 12 years as a program manager for the U.S. Postal Service headquarters in Washington, D.C.. Riviere directed a response to the Anthrax contamination in 2001. He was semi-retired working as an independent consultant the past eight years and said he is now fully retired.
There is no rush to select who will take the helm from Riviere, council decided on Friday.
“It’s more the quality of this, than the timing,” said Councilman Bill Trotter.
Member Joe Batte said council needed to bear the brunt of the decision, but citizen involvement in the process was important as well.
“This is their city. This will be their manager,” Batte said.
Gibson was concerned about the openness of the search process and privacy of the people applying for the position.
“It’s a loose-lips-sink-ships type of thing,” he said.
Councilman Chuck Kiester said a search firm may help the city get “the best and the brightest.”
A person with a business background was suggested by Recker over a government bureaucrat, but Waldack disagreed.
“We’d be short-changing ourselves if we stick with someone who strictly has a business background,” Waldack said. Knowledge of municipal legal obligations was his concern, he said.
Council plans to address some of their differing views on the permanent position at a workshop scheduled May 3. The qualifications of the manager will also be reviewed at that time.
Marco Island resident Ken Honecker suggested council slow down the search until after the budget cycle.
“A slow down will get my vote,” Recker agreed.
Thompson, who couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, has not yet announced whether he will request council to reverse their decision to fire him. He was not present Friday, but may call a public hearing within five days of receiving written notice of his termination. That decision could come early next week.
His severance is about $175,000.
Council needs to find a way to heal the community following what some called a hasty firing of Thompson, Feinman said.
“We can’t let this happen again. The Island is in turmoil right now. They’re quite disenchanted with what happened over the last week,” Feinman said.