By ELIZABETH SINCLAIR
In its March 13 regular meeting, the DeFuniak Springs City Council voted 4-0 to bypass the recommendations of an independent consulting group and set their own standards for a new city manager. Council members Ron Kelley, Janie Griffith, Henry Ennis and Kermit Wright all voted aye. Mac Carpenter was absent at the council’s March 13 meeting. Griffith also made a motion that passed 4-0, prior to recommendations, that Craig Drake remain interim assistant city manager now that the interim manager, Tilman Mears has resigned. Drake followed Mears up from Public Works.
The Institute of Senior Professionals (ISP) has offered to assist the city in finding a new permanent city manager. In doing so, they have recommended the council work with the Florida League of Cities and the Florida City and County Management Association in finding a qualified manager and would help. The services are free. ISP’s Mike Flynn and Randy Powers suggested meeting one-on-one with the council and administration to find out their individual hiring recommendations and expectations. Mayor Bob Campbell asked the council if they would consider the one-on-one discussions as ISP recommended. Kelley said there was no common ground and made the motion to deny the offer “at this time.”
The sticking point with the council is the level of formal education needed to perform the job. Powers and Flynn have recommended the position should require at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably focused on public or business administration. Powers’ research indicated that nearly 100 percent of cities, with populations similar to DeFuniak Springs, have managers with degrees. He stated that this did not exclude seeking someone from within the city government. Kelley said he wasn’t against education but wanted flexibility. He cited Mears, the previous and interim managers, saving the city thousands and thousands of dollars and that a degree doesn’t ensure competency. Michelle Kitch approached the podium to agree, followed by Dr. Melinda Henderson and Diane Pickett. Pickett pointed out that with education comes writing and communication skills that are key and have been lacking. Education, she said, is important, necessary. Henderson stated that the current job qualifications were written in 1984. She asked the council to listen to the ISP recommendations and the need to be open to change.
The city charter doesn’t address the requirements and terms of employment for a manager at all. It only addresses the elected officials and, as Mayor Campbell noted, the codes pertaining to the manager’s job description and qualifications have big holes in them. The codes recommend, but don’t require a bachelor’s degree or three years experience in a similar capacity. The codes relating to the manager begin “He/she shall be chosen on the basis on his/her executive and administrative qualifications and he/she shall serve at the pleasure of the mayor and city council.”