Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City

City Manager Search Halted, Job Posting Withdrawn, Council Regroups, Charter Confusion

LAKE CITY, FL – Monday night in City Hall the search for a city manager to replace retiring City Manager Wendell Johnson was halted. The 5 o'clock meeting, billed as a workshop for the council members to discuss what they wanted in a new city manager, fell flat as none of the council members appeared ready for the meeting. A previous job posting, approved by City Manager Johnson, was withdrawn and the Council began regrouping.


On January 24, after 9 years as city manager, Wendell Johnson ended the speculation surrounding his retirement when he sent a memorandum to the Mayor and City Council announcing his retirement effective June 1, 2018.

Unknown to the City Council, on January 31 the HR Department, with the coordination and approval of City Manager Johnson, began running an advertisement seeking applications for the city manager position. The posting was sent to the FL City-County Managers Assoc., the Florida League of Cities, Indeed (the equivalent of Monster.com), and the FL Public Human Resources Association.


As the workshop got underway, Mayor Witt announced, "City Manager Johnson has informed us that he plans to retire around the 1st of June. We need to start the process."

City Manager Johnson then advised the Council that the advertisement had been placed. "After I gave you my notice and it was accepted we started seeking applications."

There was concern about the amount of time needed to search and hire a new city manager.

City Attorney Koberlein weighed in, "You got a lot of time... These associations that Mr. Johnson pointed out. If someone is not a member of those, they'll probably not be a strong candidate, anyways."

Mr. Koberlein continued, "I think you need to advertise. I think that you need criteria to grade them on... I don't think a resume is the way to narrow things down."

The City Charter

Mr. Johnson discussed the number of applicants in 2008: "I don't think it would be anywhere near that this time for a major reason – that was in 2012; the Lake City charter was amended and the criteria for the qualifications and criteria for the city manager of Lake City changed significantly. The biggest change was the requirement for a bachelor's degree. The second one was a minimum of 10 years of verifiable experience as a city manager for a city of comparable size. That's going to dwindle down a lot of people... But that's a charter requirement."

Mr. Koberlein added, "That's a good point. That will help you a lot."

The charter was not amended in 2012 as Mr. Johnson stated. The charter does not say one needed a minimum of 10 years of verifiable experience as a city manager for a city of comparable size.

The Advertisement

Councilman Ward mentioned that not all cities have gas departments and utility departments and added, "That should be in the ad that we run."

Councilwoman Moses added, "We've already placed an ad."

Mayor Witt added, "I think it's a notice that there is a vacancy."

Mr. Johnson followed up: "It's a type of ad. The notice is out to these three organizations, because that really gets the interest up. It's unlikely that you're going to start seein' an influx of applications in the next couple - three four weeks, because anybody that's been a city manager before just does not do that right up front."

Mr. Ward mentioned that the council needs to write its own parameters.

Mr. Johnson added:  "I would think the purpose of this workshop would be for each Council member to come up with what they would like to see as a criteria -- a quality of life experience -- come up with a consolidated list of those things that you can all agree on and then we would incorporate it into the final product for the advertisement and the final closing date for that solicitation.

HR Director Michele Greene gave a copy of the advertisement to the Council.

Attorney Koberlein Had a Different Idea

Mr. Koberlein told the Council, "You all don't have to do that tonight. You could do it in private. Provide your sheets to the administration. I think you should do it very soon."

Mr. Koberlein opined that the next city manager would definitely need FAA and airport experience because the City has an airport. (file photo)

Mayor Witt suggested that the Council members discuss their suggestions at the next Council meeting.

A little while later the Mayor added, "We want to do it right and we want to do it pretty quickly."

Councilman Jake Hill added, "We can go out and get input from the community."

Councilman Ward mentioned that the candidate should have CRA experience.

City Manager Johnson

Mr. Johnson summed up his thoughts: "Not all city managers have experience in airports. Not many cities in Florida have a municipal airport.... Labor relations: unions are a nightmare... The information that you see on this advertisement here pretty much covers the common things that you're going to be looking for in any manager... The next city manager is not going to have the same vision that I had when I got here."

A little while later Mr. Johnson encouraged community meetings with the top five candidates, rather than the top two. Mr. Johnson explained that both he and his wife were asked questions by the community before he was hired. "We got asked a lot of questions. It was a lot more interesting than the interviews. I can tell you that," he said.


After the meeting your reporter spoke with HR Director Michele Greene. She said she had pulled the City advertisement from the respective posts and is waiting for clarification from the City Council on how it wants to proceed.

Tomorrow in Part II: Glenel Bowden addresses the Council

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