The Final Four!
To sports fans, The Final Four is the first weekend in April, leading up to the eventual college basketball national champion. To the Town of Fort Myers Beach, however, ‘The Final Four’ occurs a week later, on Monday, April 10, when Council will select its new Town Manager from its last four candidates.
Council at a special all-day session on Wednesday, April 5, conducted speaker-telephone interviews with its five semifinalists: Jack Green of Fort Myers Beach; Joshua Gruber of Beaufort, South Carolina; Roger Hernstadt of Marco Island; Scott Kaufhold of Charlotte, North Carolina; and Mark Kutney of Wellington, Florida. Following these phone interviews, Council plans to bring in Gruber, Hernstadt, Kaufhold and Kutney for face-to face sessions on Monday. Gruber and Kaufhold drew interest from every councilmember, with Hernstadt from four and Kutney three.
Prior to the first interview, Council assembled seven questions for every person, with council members able to ask follow-ups as well as one individual question per applicant. The common queries were #1: Describe specific methods you will use immediately to evaluate our Town’s current departmental structure, propose effective and fiscally responsible levels of staffing and to determine possible areas to reduce spending by outsourcing of services? #2: The quality of life of the residents is the number one priority. How would you balance commercial and residential on our family island that is a tourist destination to protect residential? #3: How would you communicate to the Council to keep them updated, and how often do you think updates and reports to Council are necessary; what is your turnaround time for customer complaints? #4: What growth management challenges have you handled or supervised as CEO? #5: Emergency management is important. Give us a specific example of emergency management experience you might have with a specific example of interaction with outside agencies, emergency operations departments, first responders, FEMA and post-disaster recovery. #6: Describe your management process for a capital infrastructure project and include how you determine revenue sources and intergovernmental cooperation to bring the project in on time and budget; and #7: What was the “vision” of the last entity you worked for and how did you manage to accomplish the vision? What do you think is the vision is for Fort Myers Beach?
Getting to Know You
At the start of each interview, Council allowed the applicants to make a brief opening statement. Scott Kaufhold is a Marine Corp veteran who has a civil engineering background in state and local government as well as in the private sector. Joshua Gruber is married with two young sons, who throughout his career progressively moved up in jurisdictions and responsibilities. Roger Hernstadt traces his love of waterfront communities to his youthful days of visiting Coney Island, adding that “no constituent question is too small or minimal.” Mark Kutney feels he “brings the complete package. I am a critical thinker and a problem-solver for success who interacts well with others.”
The hiring process on April 10 will begin at 9 a.m., with the candidates in separate areas of Town Hall, with the five councilmembers in rotation spending 30 minutes individually with each applicant. There will be a “Meet-&-Greet” reception with light snacks in the Town Hall lobby from Noon to 1 p.m., to allow citizens to get to know the finalists. At 1 p.m., the public portion of the Council meeting will commence, with councilmembers asking questions of the applicants one-at-a-time for roughly 30 minutes. Following the final one, Council will make its decision as to who to offer the position, with Council member Bruce Butcher appointed to conduct the negotiations for the position that pays between $120,000 to $150,000 annually in addition to a benefits package. Council hopes the chosen candidate can remain on Fort Myers Beach that evening to attend the Stormwater presentation at Bay Oaks Recreational Center from 5 to 7 p.m.
Vice Mayor Tracey Gore asked if there would be a place in the agenda for the public to offer its opinion on the Town Manager candidates, other than the “Meet-&-Greet” session. Council member Anita Cereceda responded, “I would have to say no. The Town Manager is Council’s employee, so we have to make this decision.” Mayor Dennis Boback agreed, saying, “This is what they elected us to do.” Council will televise the proceedings on April 10 on the web as well as on Comcast Channel 98. Due to the Town Manager selection, Councils will delay its previously-scheduled Workshop for that morning to a later date.
A Beer or Two!
While they ultimately did not forward his name onto the final list, Councilmembers could not have been more complimentary of hometown candidate Jack Green. “I am fond of Jack, who has great strength of community knowledge and common sense,” said Council member Joanne Shamp. “Jack is an asset to the community in so many ways,” agreed Gore. “He loves Fort Myers Beach and will always be an important part of our Town!” “Jack is a great guy,” added Mayor Boback. “He and I have had a beer or two together over the years, and I hope that will continue!”
Of the remaining original ten semi-finalists, Gregory Dunham of Kenly, North Carolina and Robert Francis of Hood River, Oregon dropped out prior to the process as they had already accepted other positions. Julian Jackson of Peachtree Corners, Georgia, removed his name without a specific reason on April 4, while Council at its April 3 meeting eliminated Richard Anderson of Bonita Springs due to irregularities in his paperwork. George Schafer of Naperville, Illinois, texted Council just before the speaker-interviews that he could not talk to them that day, while Council briefly discussed that Mr. Hernstadt is under consideration for a Lake County position, with that decision due April 17. Interim Town Manager James Steele is not a candidate by his own choice, and will retire after a brief transition with the new Town Manager.
Council adjourned at 4:44 p.m., ending a long but productive day that began at 8 a.m.