Town Manager Selection Begins

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Top Ten List

David Letterman made Top Ten lists famous and humorous; now the Town of Fort Myers Beach has its own Top Ten list and, if Town Council ultimately makes the correct decision, there won’t be anything funny about the final result.

Fort Myers Beach is looking for its 11th Town Manager in its young 21-year history, with 77 candidates from 25 states, or half of the nation, applying. Of those, 27 received at least one vote of support from Town councilmembers, on a 10 to 1 scale, with the top candidate of each receiving ten points all the way down to one, if they chose to rank that many. Mayor Dennis Boback and its newest member, Bruce Butcher, who joined the dais on March 20, ranked just nine people.

Ten applicants totaled at least 11 points, with the remaining 17 finishing in single digits, and those ten comprise the initial list of interviewees. Of the 27 candidates, 3 received interest from four councilmembers, 2 gained votes from three councilmembers, 8 others were on the list of 2 councilmembers, with 14 ranked by just one, with those being anywhere from third on a respective list all the way down to the tenth spot for a single point.

Relatively Clear Dividing Line

Before deciding to interview the top ten candidates, Council member Anita Cereceda at their March 20th meeting suggested that viable candidates be on the short list of at least three councilmembers, “as that immediately reduces the list to five people.” Councilmember Tracey Gore felt that was too small, however, because “I don’t know how some of these candidates got on this list.” Cereceda reacted with, “I could not agree with you more, Tracey.” Mayor Boback suggested the Town conduct telephone interviews “with no more than 3 or 4 at the most,” with Council member Joanne Shamp saying, “We should not speak with any below the top ten.” As the discussion concluded, Council decided to interview the top ten who all scored in double-digits, with Interim Town Manager James Steele calling that a “relatively clear dividing line.”

The top ten candidates based on the Council rating system are Richard Anderson of Bonita Springs; Gregory Dunham of Kenly, North Carolina; Robert Francis of Hood River, Oregon; Jack Green of Fort Myers Beach; Joshua Gruber of Beaufort, South Carolina; Roger Hernstadt of Marco Island; Julian Jackson of Peachtree Corners, Georgia; Scott Kaufhold of Charlotte, North Carolina; Mark Kutney of Wellington, Florida; and George Schafer of Naperville, Illinois. The Interim Town Manager is not a candidate for the fulltime position by his own choice, and will retire after serving a brief transition period with the new Town Manager.

Interestingly, each council member selected a different candidate for their top vote, with Mayor Boback favoring Kutney, Butcher rating Francis, Cereceda placing Hernstadt, Gore selecting Gruber, and Shamp choosing Anderson. Francis and Hernstadt were on the list of four councilmembers, with Kutney on three. Conversely, Gruber and Anderson were on just one other list other than being the top choice of Gore and Shamp respectively.

In his report to Council on March 20, the Interim Town Manager suggested that the panel conduct speaker-telephone interviews the week of April 3 to reduce that list to the final 3 or 4 applicants for a face-to-face meeting with Council, with a new Town Manager selected or in place on or about May 1. Upon reviewing schedules, Council decided to conduct the speaker-telephone interviews on Wednesday, April 5, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a lunch break from roughly Noon to 1 p.m. He estimated that interviews would last roughly 30 minutes, with approximately 15 minutes between each conversation. While the session will not be on television, the public is welcome to attend in Council Chambers at Town Hall.

Questions & Answers

Steele requested that council members not submit their interview questions prior to the morning of April 5, as those immediately become public records that the candidates can request in advance, nor should that session be televised live, so they cannot watch it to hear their competitors. At their March 20th meeting, Mayor Boback thought Council should “ask the same questions of everyone,” but Gore countered, “I have specific questions for some people.” After brief discussion, council members determined that they would bring their lists of questions that morning. Staff will spend the first hour quickly culling and merging these into one standard list to ask each applicant. In addition to those, each councilmember can ask one specific question of every candidate, with the first interview commencing at roughly 9 a.m.

Of the top ten candidates, all except Anderson have experience as either a Town Manager or Assistant Town Manager, though Green and Kaufhold have just one year or less in those positions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Dunham has a combined 31 years with 17 as a Town Manager, Francis has 19 years all as a Town Manager, and Jackson a total of 28 years with over 23 of those in the top spot. The remaining four candidates have between 3 to 9 years of experience.

The new Town Manager will earn between $120,000 to $150,000 annually, in addition to a benefits package. The selected candidate does not have to live on Fort Myers Beach, but must reside within 25 miles of Estero Island unless they negotiate another option with Council. The Town Manager is the chief administrative officer and implements and administrates all ordinances, resolutions, and policies adopted by Council; runs the day-to-day operation of the Town; oversees and evaluates current staff; hires or dismisses staff when necessary; meets with private citizens, civic groups, and business organizations; reports to Council any necessary information relevant to the direction and operation of the Town; and prepares and manages the budgetary process; as well as any other duties assigned by Council or required by law.

Most Crucial Decision

Town Manager candidates must have a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration or a related field from an accredited college or university, or a combination of education and experience; must be a United States citizen or allowed to work in this country; have a valid Florida driver’s license or obtain one within 30 days of residency; pass a background, drug, and alcohol test; and communicate clearly verbally and in writing; among other qualifications. The Town Manager must be willing to work hours that exceed those of Town Hall, including evenings, weekends, holidays and emergency situations. The Town will make reasonable accommodations for any candidate with an Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) need.

During the recent campaign for the March 7 election to fill Council seats that were ultimately won by Butcher, Cereceda, and Shamp, the candidates and general public often called the hiring of the next Town Manager one of the most crucial decisions in the 21-year-history of Fort Myers Beach, due to ongoing work for the reFRESH Estero Boulevard projects, the Town’s new stormwater system, and potential Downtown redevelopment. See the process for yourself by attending the speaker-telephone interviews with the top ten-rated candidates for the next Town Manager on Wednesday, April 5, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

Gary Mooney