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All five finalists for the Marco Island city manager position have at least one thing in common. All are currently unemployed because he or she resigned or was fired from their last position.

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While that fact has drawn some curious eyeballs, the underlying stories are not what you might think. Comprehensive background checks revealed many of their forced departures were politically motivated.

Marco Island’s long quest for a permanent city manager is down to its final stages as the finalists will take part in a public interview session Tuesday before the council potentially makes a selection.

Those participating are:

  • Michael Bonfield, former city manager 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.

For years, the Marco Island city manager’s office has been in flux.

Following the resignation of Roger Hernstadt, Finance Director Gil Polanco served in an interim capacity for a lengthy stint as the City Council floundered through the selection process.

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After not being able to select a candidate during its first search, council selected Lee Niblock, whose tenure only spanned three months after he was fired; accused of battery.
Polanco was thrust into the manager’s chair again for months as the council disagreed on when and how to select a permanent one.

As a form of compromise, council ultimately hired David Harden in an interim capacity to provide the city government with some stability and to help aid in a new search.

With the help of the Florida City and County Government Association, whose senior advisor program performed the search, Marco Island received 60 candidate applications for its top job.

Bonfield, Barwick, McNees, Swanson and Coffey were the last people standing and were invited to Marco Island from May 5-7 to take part in interviews with individual councilors as well as the council as a whole.

McNees is a name Southwest Florida should be familiar with as his name came up as a finalist for the city of Naples job while he was still employed as the city manager for the city of Melbourne.

While McNees withdrew from the search, it did not save his job because he was fired by the Melbourne City Council after the November election seated some new councilors.

Melbourne Vice Mayor Dan Porsi told the city’s background check firm that some councilors had viewed McNees’ decision to apply for the position as deceitful since he hadn’t informed everyone. However, there was more to the story as to why some of the new councilors wanted to fire him.

“One of the members of council was a former police officer who had an issue with Mike about a complaint of some sort in the past,” Porsi said. “Another incoming council member had a relative who had an issue with Mike over some previous perceived personnel problem, and another was a prior past council person that felt somehow persecuted by Mike.”

Bonfield faced a similar situation as he too was removed for his job as the city manager of Creedmor.

During a city commission vote, Bonfield was terminated but none of the councilors that voted for termination gave a reason why.

The current city manager, Rachel Weichel, provided some insight when she was interviewed by the background check firm.

“We had two newly elected commission members who took over and were not what you would consider to be well versed in city operations or municipal government,” Weichel said. “I think these people were intimidated by Mike and his intelligent approaches to managing city operations. 

“After they were elected Mike made every effort to work with them. He even signed them up for the newly elected officials course offered through the state and attended the workshops with them. But after they took over, they simply stopped communicating with Mike, and would not speak with him.”

Coffey resigned as the Flagler County administrator after taking heat for a Sheriff’s Operation Center that had to be abandoned.

Although the county commission approved the purchase of the building, it was Coffey that took the blame after some employees allegedly became ill. 

Former County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin summed Coffey’s departure as “Politics, end of story.”

“New Commission members were elected and one of the first things that the new commissioner wanted to do was to bring in his own people,” McLaughlin said. “This new official pretty much ran on the platform of getting rid of Craig over the whole Sheriff’s Operation Center. 

“And this has become a political nightmare right now for Flagler County. Craig actually had the votes to be able to stay, but he understood the political realities and didn’t want to put himself and his family through more turmoil and personal attacks, so he decided to resign. And I think he did the right thing.”

A victim to politics as well, Barwick’s tenure in Aspen ended earlier this year after 19 years on the job.

Barwick’s resignation came following an executive session. Few details were offered at the time.

While other interviews cast some of the blame on organizations with political clout, Mayor Steve Skadron added that the election cycle was also a factor during his interview with the background check firm.

“He partly got caught up in an election cycle here. We had three city council members running for seats and they wanted to be seen as change agents and wanted to shake things up,” Skadron said. “And I think that Steve just got caught up in that. He was here for 19 years, and that should speak volumes about his abilities. But there were those who felt it was best to change things just for the sake of change. It really didn’t have anything to do with his skill set or abilities.”

Swanson’s demise in Coral Gables too was related to law enforcement.

Although she was lauded for a number of improvements she made to the city, her downfall came as a result of losing a political battle over the Police Chief Ed Hudak.

Along with disagreements over who should have control over the department, Swanson rescinded a letter of reprimand to Hudak after the city found he did nothing wrong by appearing in a photo with female members of the police department, who were off duty, at a pool party.

The feud was a major factor in her resignation, former Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk said.

“After a period of time, I went to Cathy and suggested that she should just let this thing drop,” Kerdyk said. “But she just would not let it go and the commission basically told her that this was a deal killer for her if (the) situation was not resolved. 

“There was the issue with a photograph of the chief at a pool party, a subsequent investigation and accusations, and it was just ugly. Ultimately it came down to the fact that she was not willing to relent, and she decided that it was either her or the chief. She didn’t have sufficient votes or support on the commission, so she resigned.”

For the Marco Island City Council to hire a city manager, it will require a super majority, or five votes. If a selection is made Tuesday, contract negotiations will then take place with the goal of having the new manager in place by August.

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