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Lake City’s City Manager Search Turns Into A Surprise After Everyone Goes Home

Chicks and eggs with caption: City Manager Search: After everyone goes home, the City Council hatches a plan
Photo by cocoparisienne via Pixabay | Columbia County Observer graphic

Link to City Manager CandidatesLAKE CITY, FL – The devolvement of the City Council continued Monday night. During its regular meeting, when criticized for not coming up with questions for its headhunter-picked City Manager candidates, the Council sat as if struck by lightning. Then, during the special meeting at 9:00 pm, after the public was long gone, the Council violated its own rules and the public trust by discussing what it could ask, what notes it could take, and choosing two finalists on Wednesday.

Tomorrow at 8:30 am, a time convenient for the Council members but not for the public, the interviews begin.

Background

Months ago, the City began looking for a city manager to replace Interim City Manager Amy Fields, who was forced to resign.

After a questionable process to pick a headhunter to find city manager candidates, Renee Narloch & Associates was chosen by the City Council.

Ms. Narloch came up with thirty-six candidates. One dropped out.

See:
City Manager Search: Tonight the Public Gets Its First Look at the Candidates and the Headhunter
Headhunter Takes Center Stage In City Manager Search. Councilman Hill: Only Council Member to Share His Requirements for City Manager

Monday night, the City Manager search came up during the meeting.

Former City Councilman Glenel Bowden addresses the City Council (file photo)Former City Councilman and community activist Glenel Bowden addressed his issues with the lack of participation of the Council members.

He said he thought the Council should be able to come up with its own questions. "I think it's intellectually lazy not to," he told them.

Headhunter Narlock said she would be coming up with the questions.

Mr. Bowden asked about headhunter Narloch, “Is she tellin’ you what the answers should be, too?”

Mr. Bowden continued, “If you don’t have a question on your own, then we’ve got a problem.”

Mr. Bowden complained about the meeting time, eight-thirty in the morning.

He thought it was early to begin a meeting. He said, "You set a meeting that was convenient for you all individually. At some point in time, you have to understand at the very top of this organization is a group called the citizens."

Your reporter addressed the Council. He inquired about the nature of Wednesday's special meeting.

Lake City Mayor Steve WittHe asked, “This will be a regular public meeting, except the candidates will be appearing by Zoom?

Mayor Witt replied, “Right.”

Your reporter followed up, “And they won’t have the questions until after the first person has asked the questions?”

Mayor replied, “Right.”

Your reporter followed up, "Do you know anything about the Code of Omerta (code of silence)? It is what the mob does. This is the code among ICMA members. Some people call it the ICMA mafia…I had a note from Ms. Sikes that the City Attorney, Fred Koberlein, Jr., said this [the questions] was exempt. The statute says exam and exam questions and answers. They are not taking an exam. After the first person gets the questions, then everybody is going to know the questions, including the rest of the candidates."

Your reporter continued, "If I were a candidate, I'd be listening to those questions. Anybody would be an idiot not to. If they weren't, they shouldn't be the City Manager."

“I’m asking for the questions. Everybody should get the questions. My suggestion is that all four of them [the candidates] are on the screen at once, and you alternate the questions. You do it clean and above board, instead of this lunacy by scheduling them at different times and expecting them by some sort of secret mafia code among city managers not to listen to the questions.”

After Everyone Goes Home, The Council Takes Another Bite of the Apple

After the conclusion of Monday night's Council meeting, the City Clerk had noticed another meeting, a Special City Council Meeting, to discuss litigation matters. The Council can bring nothing else up during the special meeting, whose purpose is to convene into the closed session to discuss litigation.

The Clerk's meeting notice was crystal clear: the purpose of the meeting was "to conduct an Attorney-Client session…."

City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.:
Anounced circuit court judge candidate weighs in

City Attorney Fred Koberlein (file photo)Mr. Koberlein decided it was okay to discuss Wednesday’s city manager interviews during the 9 pm Counci meeting.

He said, "We can discuss items so long as we don't take any action… talking about format; talking about how they evaluate things like that which you do not take any action tonight, but if you have discussions, for example, when you’re writing becomes a public record or something else, we can entertain those now.”

Mayor Witt asked, “We’re doin’ the interviews Wednesday. Can we take notes? Those are public records?”

Mr. Koberlein responded, “It becomes a fine line and a more intertwined question of whether or not those notes are helped -- help you to relay your opinions or your views…if you start taking a volume of notes, even if they are of substance, if you're just taking them to go home with as a reminder, then they don't always become a public record.”

Mr. Koberlein opined about Maine's Sunshine Law. It was clear he hadn't looked at it.

Councilman Sampson Suggests Choosing Two Finalists on Wednesday

City Councilman Todd Sampson (file photo)Mr. Sampson said, “I would like to see at the end, I know we can't take any action, but I wouldn't be against us all ranking them individually, then maybe pickin’ the top two and seein’ about settin’ something up, maybe an interview for them maybe early January. That way, you can pare it down pretty quick. All four looked pretty good.”

Councilman Hill had questions, “I’m like Mr. Bowden. I have some questions. Would that be a problem?”

Mr. Sampson answered, “As long as the same question is asked to every candidate. I think that's the crucial issue.”

City Attorney Koberlein weighted in, “You should have similar questions so that you're not being arbitrary or capricious… you can ask different questions… Your questions should be fair.”

Without further-ado, Mayor Witt said: “We’ll be adjourned.”

Epilogue

The Wednesday plan was hatched: out of the public eye and without the possibility of pubic comment.

Lake City, Florida: the saga continues.

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