Will the Sarasota City Commission’s decision not to select a new city manager Monday night affect its ability to recruit a top talent? Only time will tell, according to both search consultants and commissioners.
But, one thing is for certain. Sarasota city commissioners need four out of five votes to select a new city manager, and at Monday’s meeting, the votes weren’t there.
Search consultant Colin Baenziger, of Colin Baenziger & Associates, told the Sarasota Observer Tuesday he was surprised by the commission’s decision.
“You only see this happen every one out of 100 times,” Baenziger said.
What Baenziger and others saw Monday night was a commission that’s not willing to settle for a city manager with a blemish on his record.
The list of three candidates included former Oak Park, Ill., City Manager Thomas Barwin; Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm; and West Palm Beach City Manager Edward “Ed” Mitchell.
Although Vice Mayor Willie Shaw nominated Barwin and Commissioner Terry Turner said he would support Barwin, there weren’t enough votes to make the selection.
Questions had circulated during the weekend interview about why Barwin had resigned his position so abruptly in Oak Park and why none of the Oak Park councilmen had submitted a reference for their review.
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo nominated Chisholm but received no other support. The majority of the commission wasn’t comfortable with a couple of legal matters he dealt with in Daytona Beach and as the DeSoto County administrator.
Mayor Suzanne Atwell nominated Mitchell. She received no support. Mitchell, the longtime manager of West Palm Beach, dealt with a fraud issue and a commissioner pay-to-play scheme under his helm.
Commissioner Shannon Snyder declined to nominate or vote Monday night. Snyder made it known early on he wasn’t happy with the candidates. He had no questions for Barwin over the weekend’s interview process and barely provided any questions or input for the other candidates.
“I don’t think there’s consensus for a candidate, and this is too big of a decision and too big of a mistake if we do it wrong,” Snyder said.
A motion passed 4-1 to have Colin Baenziger & Associates continue to look for new city manager candidates. Only Shaw, who voiced support for Barwin in a speech, did not vote for the motion.
Baenziger told the Sarasota Observer the next step will be to meet individually with commissioners over the next couple of weeks.
“Obviously, we need to talk to them again and see what was lacking from the candidates they saw,” Baenziger said.
Baenziger has suggested they raise the current salary maximum for the position from $180,000 to about $215,000.
Former City Manager Bob Bartolotta, who resigned under pressure after an email scandal was revealed at City Hall earlier this year, received a salary of $177,000.
Baenziger’s firm has been paid $21,500, so far, to perform the search, and the contract requires it to perform another search at no additional cost. It will take at least another three months to complete the process over again.
Snyder told the Sarasota Observer last week it’s pretty simple.
Said Snyder: “We’ve already been there and done that with scandals. We need someone to restore credibility and bring Sarasota to the next level during difficult budget times.”
Snyder voiced support for Interim City Manager Terry Lewis, who previously served as an interim leader in North Port and Sarasota County, to take the job permanently.
Lewis has repeatedly declined considering such a permanent post. He had rented a truck to drive furniture to his retirement home up in North Carolina, only to discover Monday night that he’s still needed as an interim leader. Lewis had to cancel his plans three months ago when the city came calling once his tenure was no longer needed at the county.
“U-Haul won’t even rent to me anymore because I keep cancelling on them,” said Lewis.
UPDATE: The city of Sarasota hired Tom Barwin. Barwin’s first day on the job was Sept. 4.