Marco Island city manager search down to five candidates

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle

And then there were five.

The Marco Island City Council has trimmed the list of candidates for its city manager position from 60 to five as the city now heads to the background check phase of its employment search.

In preparation for Monday night's meeting, a three-person panel of senior advisors from the Florida City and County Management Association evaluated the candidate pool and put together a list of 10 candidates they felt matched what the City Council was looking for.

After each councilor submitted a ballot for which candidates they would like to see interviewed, the top vote-getters were:

  • Michael Bonfield, former city manger for the St. Pete Beach and Creedmoor, N.C.
  • Steve Barwick, former city manager for the city of Aspen, Co.
  • Michael McNees, former city manager for the city of Melbourne
  • Catherine Swanson, former city manager for the city of Hollywood and city of Coral Gables  
  • Craig Coffey, former Flagler County and Desoto County administrator.

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Marco Island is seeking a permanent replacement after its city government experienced a tumultuous year, which included the City Council having to fire former manager Lee Niblock last March due unethical behavior associated with a battery complaint filed against him.

After Finance Director Gil Polanco assumed the role in an interim capacity, the City Council opted to find a more experienced interim candidate that would help stabilize the government.

The Council hired former Delray Beach City Manager David Harden in January with the intention of keeping him in place until the city could conduct a search for a permanent candidate.

With a shorter list to work with, the city will now complete a comprehensive background check of each candidate.

The next steps, however, have undergone a few changes.

Originally, the City Council had decided to invite the candidates to Marco Island for a tour and interviews between May 15 and 17. With Councilor Sam Young unavailable due to a family vacation, council is looking at either holding interviews before he leaves or the week of Memorial Day.

City Council also agreed to vote on reaffirming the candidate list at its May 6 meeting after Councilor Howard Reed raised concerns that the background checks might reveal negative information.

While council did not discuss any of the candidates in detail, all five either resigned or were fired from their former positions.

The Miami Herald reported last year that Swanson tendered her letter of resignation in September after months of bad press and Swanson publicly feuding with police.

“While all parties want what is best for the Coral Gables community, I find myself at odds with the majority of the Commission on matters related to Police Department oversight,” Swanson wrote in her letter of resignation.

Minutes from the Oct. 2 Creedmoor City Council meeting showed that Bonfield was terminated by 3-2 vote.

Of note, none of the three city commissioners that voted to terminate Bonfield provided any justification for their decision despite a request from Mayor Bobby Wheeler.

McNees was terminated on Nov. 27 by the Melbourne City Council after his name previously came up during the city of Naples city manager search.

Florida Today reported that McNees landed on the chopping block after some councilors, including two that were sworn in during the same meeting, cited a lack of trust over his flirtation with the Naples job.

After McNees had been named a finalist in the Naples search, he withdrew his name from consideration.

Barwick resigned as the Aspen city manager on Jan. 7 after 19 years in the position.

After coming out of executive session, it was stated that the majority of councilors had requested his resignation, minutes from the meeting stated.

Two days later, Coffey saw a similar fate as the Flagler County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to accept his resignation after 12 years of service, minutes from the meeting stated.

The Palm Coast Observer reported that Coffey's performance had been criticized by a few member of the commission as well as the county sheriff.

The local police and teachers' unions also passed votes of no confidence weeks prior to the commission's decision.

After councilors have an opportunity to individually interview the candidates next month, a special meeting will take place to conduct interviews in the sunshine.

If council is ready to make a selection at that time, it will then authorize Council Chairperson Erik Brechnitz and City Attorney Alan Gabriel to conduct contract negotiations.

Although council's interview dates will change, the overall timeline will not. The goal of City Council is to have the new manager in place by August.

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