Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City

Special Meeting Whittles City Manager Candidates From 9 to 5: Interviews June 6

LAKE CITY, FL – During his tenure as Mayor of Lake City, unlike his brethren across the road at the County, Mayor Steve Witt has assured and encouraged the free exchange of ideas between the public and the City Council, even when things occasionally became uncomfortable.

HR Director Michele Green addresses the City Council to a chamber void of regular citizens.

Lake City has over 12,000 residents; this afternoon there were 6,171 registered voters in the City limits. Other than Council candidate Vanessa George and two members of her campaign (photo: right), the local newspaper editor and his reporter, and the Utility Department's Paul Dyal (not in the picture), who resides in Columbia County, no one showed up.

Mayor Witt Gaveled the Meeting to Order

Mayor Witt got right down to business. He asked if anyone wished to address the Council and seeing none he addressed the Council: "I'm sure everybody received a packet that Ms. Greene prepared. I want to thank her for a lot of hard work puttin' this together and our purpose tonight is to give us a little short list and figure out when and how many we want to interview."

HR Director Greene listens to the City Council as the Lake City Reporter's Robert Bridges (right) looks on.

Ms. Greene advised 9 candidates remained from the list of 13. "I would ask Council to consider selecting the finalists to move forward into the interview process... I would recommend your top 5 candidates with an alternate."

Ms. Greene suggested ranking the candidates from the original ranking, or re-ranking the candidates using the new information (background checks, letters of recommendation) the Council received recently.

Mayor Witt asked if anyone had questions for Ms. Green. There were none.

Mayor Witt said, "I like the idea of taking the top five."

Councilwoman Moses agreed, "After reviewing them, those are the five I would like to interview."

Councilman Ward agreed.

Councilman Hill Had Another Idea

Councilman Hill makes his pitch for former airport manager, Nick Harwell.

Mr. Hill said, "I would like to have Nick Harwell in my five instead of Joseph [Helfenberger].

Mayor Witt said, "Well, I recommend we just make it six and do the six. Is everybody good with that?"

There was a long silence.

Mayor Witt added, "That would be the top five and the one you want to add to it."

There was another silence.

Councilman Jefferson weighed in, but spoke so low he was incomprehensible.

Mr. Ward suggested going with the higher ratings.

There was another silence.

The semi-final list prepared by Ms. Greene. The finalists and alternate are highlighted.

 Top 13 Applications

Mr. Ward continued, "Mayor, I would make a motion that we go with the top 5 and add Vince Akhimie as an alternate. I understand where Jake [Hill] is coming from, but that wouldn't be fair to the ones ranked above him. When we get past the top three, there wasn't a whole lot of support for any of them."

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Ms. Moses seconded the motion.

Before the vote, Mr. Hill said, "So what you all sayin' is you all want to do the top five?"

There was no further discussion and the motion carried 4-1, with Mr. Hill dissenting.

The Interviews

Ms. Greene recommended 1hr and 15min per interview.

Long time Councilman George Ward in a pensive moment.

It was agreed to do all the interviews on one day beginning in the morning. Ms. Greene will provide questions. The Council members were asked to come up with 3-5 questions. The Mayor did not rescind his earlier request for questions from the community.

Your reporter asked, "Will the order of the interviews be drawn from a hat."

Mayor Witt said Ms. Greene would set the times adding, "It may be a logistics thing." No one disagreed.

Questions will be provided to HR by the 18th. Additional information about the candidates will be forwarded to the City Council as it becomes available.

Councilman Hill again tried to make his case for Mr. Harwell, arguing that Mr. Ward, who is not running for re-election, is "on the way out." He could find no sympathy for his position.

Mayor Witt

Your reporter asked, "How much weight does the interview have? Are the points from the interview added to the points they already have?"

Mayor Witt answered, "No. We're goin' to interview and then decide."

Your reporter followed up, "Based on?"

Mayor Witt said, "We haven't decided yet."

The Mayor asked if anybody had anything else?

Seeing none, the meeting was adjourned.

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