Process to restart with recruiter
By Joe Capozzi
Ocean Ridge commissioners will hire a professional recruiter to find a new town manager after scrapping an initial “flawed” search process that started in July and saw four of six finalists withdraw, including three just days before the commission was scheduled to choose one Oct. 19.
“This has been a little bit of a Jerry Springer show. People have put their name in, then they have withdrawn, then they said ‘Whoops, I didn’t mean to withdraw,’’’ Vice Mayor Kristine de Haseth said Oct. 19 at the commission’s fifth and latest meeting dedicated to the town manager search.
When the search process started July 25 — 10 days after Tracey Stevens announced she was leaving Sept. 11 to take the town manager’s job in Haverhill — commissioners expected to hire a new full-time manager by Thanksgiving at the latest.
Now, they hope to find someone by Feb. 28, when interim manager Lynne Ladner’s contract expires. Taking the advice of former Ocean Ridge Mayor Ken Kaleel, commissioners unanimously agreed to hand the process over to a professional recruiting firm, a strategy they initially rejected in July to save money.
A professional recruiter could cost as much as $28,000, said Town Attorney Christy Goddeau, who will suggest five firms for commissioners to consider at their next regular meeting Nov. 7.
Considering the problems with the initial search and how town taxpayers may end up spending $1 million over the next five years on the next town manager’s salary and benefits, the recruiting fee will be money well invested, Commissioner Steve Coz said.
“We are already so enmeshed in a mess. We need outside help,’’ he said. “Spending $28,000 to find a good candidate, and spending another $10,000 on travel, if necessary, is nothing compared to a million dollars.”
To get to this point, commissioners had relied on guidance from the Florida City and County Management Association’s senior advisers program, which provided free recruiting services. The town manager’s job was posted on municipal trade websites and advertised in The Palm Beach Post and The Coastal Star, but netted just 15 applicants.
Six candidates, including Ladner, were chosen on Sept. 29 and invited to a first round of interviews via Zoom on Oct. 12. One finalist, Ryan Fabbri of South Carolina, withdrew a few days before that meeting.
After conducting the five Zoom interviews, commissioners agreed Oct. 12 to invite all five to a final round of interviews in person at Town Hall on Oct. 19. But commissioners also decided the town would give each finalist just $500 for travel and lodging expenses for the Oct. 19 interviews.
A day later, the two out-of-state finalists — Steven Crowell of Missouri and Raymond Bossert of Wisconsin — withdrew, leaving just Ladner, Moore Haven City Manager Larry Tibbs and former Sewall’s Point Town Manager Michelle Berger.
On Oct. 17, Berger withdrew.
Contacted by The Coastal Star, Crowell would not discuss his reasons for withdrawing and Bossert said he had a conflict because he was scheduled to testify on municipal issues before the Wisconsin state legislature Oct. 19.
Berger, in an email to The Coastal Star, suggested her decision was influenced by comments Oct. 12 from Coz, who told commissioners Berger would not have his support as a finalist.
“While there was strong interest and support by multiple commissioners, based on the discussions, I thought it best to free up the field for other candidates,’’ Berger said in the email.
“I have no other official comment,’’ she said, but added this reference from the International City/County Management Association:
“Some managers are bold enough to accept a job offer on a 3-2 or 4-3 vote (depending on the number of governing body members), but this is a huge risk and could lead to a quick exit if just one mistake occurs during your new administration.”
During the Oct. 19 meeting, Commissioner Geoff Pugh said he thought the commission was close to agreeing on Crowell as the finalist.
“But I guess he was too cheap not to fly down here to do an interview,’’ he said. “I’m sorry. I don’t believe we should pay. If you are coming down for a job interview then you should be able to foot the bill for that job interview especially if it” might pay $160,000 a year.
After Bossert spoke to The Coastal Star, he emailed commissioners again on Oct. 18 to make clear his decision to drop out was not related to a lack of reimbursement by the town for travel expenses. He said he wanted the job and could travel to Ocean Ridge for an interview as early as Oct. 21.
Coz tried to schedule a special meeting to accommodate Bossert. But that idea, polled to individual commissioners by Ladner and Goddeau before the Oct. 18 meeting, was rejected by a majority.
“Our process is flawed. We need to rework the process,’’ Commissioner Martin Wiescholek said Oct. 19.
Commissioners were prepared to post new job listings and set new interview dates for before the holidays when Kaleel, among a dozen residents who attended the meeting, asked to speak.
“It sounds from the audience like you’re hiring a burger flipper. ‘Let’s put an ad in the local paper.’ You need professional help,’’ said Kaleel, an attorney who was Ocean Ridge mayor from 1998 to 2012.
“Anybody hiring a CEO today goes through an executive search firm. They don’t just put an ad in the paper. They search out for somebody. They get the best qualified candidate.’’