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Replacing the City Manager: Pt II - Councilman Greene Wants a Headhunter; City Attorney Predicts Fields “Likely to be Next City Manager”

Photo of Councilman Jake Hill with Mayor Witt and Councilman Greene lookin on. Caption: Veteran Councilman Jake Hill was infavor of Ami Fields continuing to clean up the City mess.
Councilman Jake Hill center; Mayor Witt (left) Councilman Greene (right).        (Columbia County Observer photo and graphic)

LAKE CITY, FL – After squandering over $10k due to delays during the removal of City Manager Helfenberger, three members of the City Council want to spend another $10k plus on a head hunter to run an advertisement and collect resumes to fill the vacant City Manager position. Advertising for a City Manager is something the City HR Department should be able to do in its sleep.

Deep into Monday evening’s City agenda was an item added by Mayor Witt: “Discussion and Possible Action – RFP Process for City Manager Search.”

The Discussion

Sylvester Warren
Businessman and commnity activist Sylvester Warren.

While no one knew for sure what Mayor Witt had in mind, City residents commented about the timing of the search to replace Interim City Manager Ami Fields.

Resident Sylvester Warren told the Council, “I don’t know what the hurry is.”

Former City Council member Glenel Bowden opined that he didn’t believe doing a City Manager search in the middle of budget time was a good idea, telling the Council, “I don’t see that it’s necessary to do it at this time.”

Former City Councilman Glenel Bowden address the City Council
Former City Councilman Glennel Bowden

Councilman Jake Hill mentioned the City Manager crisis in 2009, which resulted in City Manager Scott Reynolds's departure after discovering his claim of being a college graduate was false.

Mr. Hill said there was “no hurry about getting rid of Scott [Reynolds].”

Councilman Sampson said he thought Ms. Fields was doing a great job as Interim City Manager.

“She is a strong leader and just what the City needs right now. Ms. Fields has stepped into an incredibly difficult situation and has begun the process of correcting many items that have been ignored for a long time," he said.

City Councilman Todd Sampson
City Councilman Todd Sampson moved to give Ms. Fields sometime to clean up the City mess.

Mr. Sampson proposed Ms. Fields continue as interim City Manager through the budget cycle and continue for a six-month total in that position.

He said, “At that time, the Council will reevaluate the situation and move forward from there.”

Mr. Sampson requested a second, which Mr. Hill provided.

Councilman Chris Greene said the City should “go out and hire somebody. Use a headhunter. Ms. Fields can apply.”

Mr. Greene recommended S. Rene Narloch out of Tallahassee. He did not reveal he got this idea from City Attorney Koberlein. Mr. Greene also had no idea of the cost.

Everybody Was Waiting For Eugene Jefferson

City Councilman Eugene Jefferson
Councilman Jefferson had his remarks prepared. Most of those in the chamber were not happy.

City Councilman Jefferson weighed in, "I think Ms. Fields is trying. She is trying to do the best she can… and she's been doing a swell job. The fact is we are without a City Manager… we need a permanent city manager; we need an experienced city manager, and we need a full-time city manager who can take charge of the administration of our City and move this City in a positive direction."

Mr. Jefferson said the City needed to move forward with a search “as quick as it can.”

Sylvester Warren called out from the audience, “Straight Uncle Tom stuff.”

Ms. Fields said, “I think I deserve an opportunity to succeed.”

Mr. Greene said he was concerned about the process and again suggested a headhunter.

Attorney Koberlein Revealed Mr. Greene's Live Oak Knowledge

City Councilman Chris Greene
City Councilman Chris Greene.

City Attorney Fred Koberlein said, “Mr. Greene contacted me late last week and asked me about the process that the City of Live Oak used last year.”

Mr. Koberlein did not say he was the Live Oak City Attorney.

Mr. Sampson's motion to appoint Ms. Fields for six months failed, 2-3, with Mr. Sampson and Hill in favor and Mr. Jefferson, Greene, and Witt against.

Mr. Greene asked City Attorney Koberlein to go out and get three quotes from headhunters.

The City has a procurement department on staff that does that. Mr. Koberlein bills the City $160hr for his work.

Mr. Sampson said, “Nowhere is that listed as a possible action, i.e., it’s not on the agenda.

Attorney Koberlein
Does he believe in clean hands?

Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.
Fred Koberlein, Jr. (file)

Attorney Koberlein said it was improper for him to get quotes and suggested appointing a council member saying, “I certainly might assist.”

Mr. Koberlein did not explain the difference between getting the quotes and ‘assisting’ in getting the quotes.

Mr. Greene said the Mayor could get the prices.

Mr. Greene made a motion for the Mayor to research and get the names of three companies for the RFP process for the city manager's search.

Mr. Sampson asked, “Doesn't that go out to bid, and companies that are interested apply for it?... I’ve not done an RFP like this before.

Mr. Greene said, “This is my first time.”

Attorney Koberlein Explained
His knowledge of the RFP process was interesting.

“The RFP process is a competitive procurement, which is guided based on the amount of the good-faith estimate of the services. Additionally, there are some professions that require a competitive procurement. However, this profession would not be one. The way I understand it is that the Mayor would be gathering information to determine whether or not an RFP is necessary or not. If the good-faith estimates come back under $20,000, then the RFP or competitive advertisement procurement is not necessary. There's a second RFP which I anticipate that the City would have to go through if they went along this path, which is the RFP for the position itself -- the position of City Manager."

Lake City has a procurement department. The City Attorney had to know this. In the civilized world, the procurement department would handle the procurement process for finding a headhunter if that is what the City Council wanted to do.

Councilman Greene suggested holding the HR position open for Ms. Fields “until the City Manager position is filled."

The City Council has no authority to hire the HR Director. Holding the position open would be fruitless for Ms. Fields.

City Attorney Koberlein Weighs In on the Former Position of Ms. Fields.

Mr. Koberlein said:

“As the City Manager will be assuming the HR position until it is filled, so, for example, there is no one else to do it unless she assigns it to somebody – so -- just by being the interim city manager, she will be handling those duties – again -- unless she assigns it to somebody. But I want to make sure that the Council understands that the counselors are prohibited by the Charter under section 303 of appointing anyone to the City administrative offices. So the Council has the opportunity to appoint three city charter officers, but no one else.”

There are three positions in the City Charter which the City Council hires: City Manager, City Clerk, and City Attorney. Only one is listed in the City Charter as a Charter Officer; that is the City Clerk.

The City Manager is not hired through an RFP process, but an application and interview process. That is how ex-City Manager Helfenberger was hired.

Mr. Koberlein was City Attorney during that time, and Mayor Witt and Councilmen Jefferson and Hill participated in that process.

While Councilman Greene was not elected then, his wife was the HR Director who facilitated the process.

Attorney Koberlein continued, “For example -- I think Ms. Fields will grade very highly on a RFP and very efficient work. (Unintelligible). Answers -- easy to conversate with and easy to get a hold of. I think she'll grade highly.”

Koberlein Endorsement of Ami Fields Oversteps His Charter Responsibilities

Interim City Manager Ami Fields listens
Interim City Manager Ami Fields listens.

Mr. Koberlein continued, “She [Ms. Fields] will likely be the next City Manager, or she'll be an assistant city manager, and so for that reason and addition, we wouldn't want to put her in HR as of yet. But even if you do want to in the future, unfortunately, your hands are tied."

Had Mr. Koberlein done his research or asked Ms. Fields what her plans in filling the vacant HR Director position were, he would have learned that interviews are scheduled for next week, and a new HR Director is on the horizon.

Mr. Koberlein’s proclamation that Ms. Fields “will likely be the next city manager” defies comprehension and is a clear endorsement.

Attorney Koberlein's job description, as stated in the City Charter, is unambiguous. He shall act as "legal advisor to the city and all of its officers in matters relating to their official duties."

Ms. Fields “will likely be the next city manager” is not legal advice.

Mr. Koberlein’s conclusion that Ms. Fields could be “an assistant city manager” is also interesting, as the assistant city manager is hired by the City Manager, not the City Council.

Epilogue

Mayor Witt will be coming back with a report of his headhunting findings during the July 19 City Council meeting.

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