Members of the screening committee met Wednesday, Sept. 21, to begin the process of selecting a new Key West city manager.
The final selection will replace current outgoing manager Patti McLauchlin when she retires next year.
The committee comprises one representative from each commissioner and the mayor: Arlo Haskell (appointed by Mayor Teri Johnston); Chris Valdez (Greg Davila); Kurt Lewin (Jimmy Weekley); Sam Holland (Mary Lou Hoover); Ken Sullivan (Clayton Lopez); Peggy Ward Grant (Sam Kaufman); and former Key West Police Chief Donie Lee (Billy Wardlow).
In Wednesday night’s meeting, City Attorney Shawn Smith presented a primer on Florida’s Sunshine and Public Records laws.
“Fortunately, most of you have served in some government capacity before and are aware of these laws,” said Smith. “Don’t call each other and discuss items that might eventually come before you on this board.”
Smith said although the rule applies specifically to the committee, it doesn’t preclude members from speaking with their appointing commissioners.
“I would encourage you to speak to your commissioners,” said Smith. “That communication helps them act when your recommendations come before them.”
Smith also discussed public records, explaining to each member that anything they receive regarding their tasks in selecting a new manager would be considered public records.
“Please send it to me, the City Clerk, anybody, so we can capture that information as a part of the public record.”
Next, the committee heard from Donna Higgenbotham of the Mercer Group Florida. She is tasked with advertising the position and then sifting through applications to vet eight to 10 candidates for further consideration.
“I expect we will get 40 to 50 applications and resumes,” said Mercer.
Higgenbotham echoed sentiments expressed by member Haskell.
“We want somebody that is going to be a part of the community and understand what residents are going through,” she said.
Of those considered finalists, Higgenbotham said she would provide their experience, where they are now and what certifications they have. While asking for 30-, 60- and 90-day action plans, Higgenbotham also wants to know what they see as opportunities and challenges for the incoming manager.
Higgenbotham also said she would conduct thorough background and Internet searches for each candidate, which she will present electronically to commissioners.
Member Chris Valdez asked for a city email address for each task force member and got it.
“I don’t know about everybody else, but I get about 300 emails a day, and that would help me (us) sort through everything,” he said.
Higgenbotham explained the three-day interview process for candidates. On day one, candidates would meet with community members in an informal setting and have the opportunity to ask questions. On day two, commissioners would have a chance to interact with each candidate. Day three would consist of more familiarity with the Southernmost City.
Member Arlo Haskell said the plan sounds good but wanted to make sure Higgenbotham had everything the Mercer Group needed to begin the process.
“We are close,” said Higgenbotham. “Very close.”
With regard to a timeline, Mercer will begin recruiting shortly, with the position closing on Dec. 1. A decision will be made in February 2023, allowing the finalist to offer 30 days’ notice to their current employer so they can be on the ground in April.
“We have to get this right,” said Haskell. “In two years, the City Commission will lose the veteran leadership it has had for a generation. Commissioners Weekly, Wardlow and Lopez will all leave the dais, taking decades of institutional memory. We are approaching a new era for city government and a potential sea change for the people of Key West.
“We need a manager built to last. Someone who can withstand the day-to-day public scrutiny and private pressures that are just part of this demanding job. Someone who can steer the ship of City government through the uncertain passage ahead and who can do the work, day in and day out, of building a better Key West.”