Meet and greet: City manager hopefuls visit with citizens, councilors

Lance Shearer

Sunday afternoon, city staffers and interested citizens got to meet and talk to Marco Island’s new city manager. They just didn’t know which of the five candidates it will be.

The five finalists for the city manager position came to the Marco Island Yacht Club Sunday for a “meet and greet,” giving local residents, office holders and city staffers the chance to talk with them. The office holders, specifically Marco Island city councilors, were the most important to the candidates, as they will be voting soon to select one of the finalists.

More:Current Marco city manager candidates fell victim to politics in losing previous positions

The new city manager will replace David Harden, who was brought in on a temporary basis after former city manager Lee Niblock was fired after a battery complaint. Harden and City of Marco Island Finance Director Gil Polanco, who has served multiple stints as interim manager, were among the group of almost 80 in the MIYC dining room.

City Council Chair Erik Brechnitz introduced the candidates and their spouses, before giving each the chance to make brief remarks.

“This is the most important decision the City Council will make in the next four years. The council only hires two people – the city attorney and the manager,” said Brechnitz. Apart from that, the finalists just spoke informally with attendees.

Monday, each candidate began a round of one-on-one meetings with councilors, after getting a tour of the island hosted by city staff. After their regular City Council meeting Monday, the council will meet in a special-called meeting for public interviews, and eventually take a series of votes that will further narrow the list of contenders from the original group of 60 applicants, until one candidate emerges as the choice of a super-majority of five councilors.

Councilors expressed satisfaction with each of the finalists, indicating a high likelihood that the new manager will be chosen from the group seen on Sunday. The candidates 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.

“I’ve read all their résumés – this will be a tough choice. On paper, they all look very good,” said City Councilor Victor Rios.

“This is an excellent group of candidates. I think we will almost certainly hire one of these people as our manager,” said Councilor Howard Reed.

Councilor Jared Grifoni also said he could be happy with any of the finalists, based on what he has seen so far, and added that he does not believe what a previous “headhunter” search firm reported, that qualified applicants were not applying for the Marco city manager job.

But city manager is a job that notoriously does not lead to lengthy employment, and Marco Island has had a more active revolving door than most communities.

“You have to remember, city manager is probably the highest turnover of any profession there is,” longtime Marco political observer John Arceri noted during the last manager search. “Council should focus only on qualifications, their interviews, and public feedback – not if someone got fired. They all do.”

That is true of the current crop, with all of the finalists either having been terminated or resigning under pressure from previous manager positions. Harden said he expects to be in his position until July, with councilors having asked him to help prepare the city budget, although that could change depending on what happens with the search and the wishes of the successful candidate.

Harden declined to give any detailed advice to his replacement, beyond “be tactful. It’s a challenging position.”

Devan Patel contributed to this report.