By Dan Moffett
Delray Beach commissioners are beginning a nationwide search for a new city manager and say they are committed to avoiding the mistakes made in hiring the last one.
The commission voted 4-1 on July 15 to approve the final details of a settlement with former City Manager Louie Chapman Jr. that will pay him about $100,000 as a buyout for his resignation.
Commissioner Shelly Petrolia voted against the deal, saying the city should have fired Chapman with cause and given him nothing.
But it takes four votes under the city charter for that to happen, and the commission didn’t have them. Voters will decide in an Aug. 26 special election whether to change the requirement for termination to a simple majority.
Under the settlement, Chapman receives a 90-day suspension with pay, 20 weeks’ additional pay, paid vacation time and a pension contribution. The commission’s relationship with Chapman broke down after the county inspector general found he misled them on a $60,000 purchase of garbage carts.
Mayor Cary Glickstein called the settlement “distasteful” but said it was something the city had to do to move forward.
“The city needs closure on this,” Glickstein said, “and the staff needs a permanent city manager.”
Glickstein, Petrolia and Commissioner Jordana Jarjura were not in office when the city hired Chapman in January 2013 without using a professional executive recruitment company, relying instead on the cursory recommendations of an unpaid volunteer group of municipal executives.
This time, commissioners say they first will select a qualified private-sector recruitment firm to do the search and then seek candidates from across the country.
“I do think it is important that the community has input into the hiring,” Glickstein said. “I don’t think this should be done in a vacuum. It is a city manager, not a commission manager.”
One potential candidate may already be working at City Hall: Terry Stewart, the interim city manager who replaced Chapman last spring. Stewart, formerly a city manager in Fort Myers Beach and Cape Coral, has won praise from commissioners.
Commissioner Adam Frankel suggested that Stewart has earned a chance to claim the job himself. “I think we got a great guy here,” Frankel said. “Give him a tryout.”
Glickstein agreed with the glowing reviews of Stewart’s performance and encouraged him to “throw his hat in the ring” if he wants, but also argued that the city had to go forward with a search and screening of candidates.
“The city has been a classic case of giving the job to the No. 2 person because the No. 2 person is there when the No. 1 left,” the mayor said. “As good a job as Mr. Stewart is doing, we owe it to the city to conduct a real search, so that when people look to us we can say we did the best we could.”
Commissioners chose the executive recruitment firm Baenziger & Associates over three competitors to screen candidates to replace Chapman. The city has set an application deadline of Sept. 3, and commissioners are scheduled to choose finalists by Oct. 6 and the new city manager on Oct. 20.