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Lake City’s City Manager Search Goes Sideways: Candidate Interviews Split – Public Kept in the Dark – Two Councilmen Not Happy - One MIA

Photo of wrench with Caption: Wrench thrown into city manager search. Another 12th hour reveal by city management
Photo by Matt Artz via Unsplash | Columbia County Observer graphic

LAKE CITY, FL – Last week, the City knew a wrench had been thrown into its plans to hire a city manager. The City knew both finalists would not be attending the planned meet and greet and interview session planned for January 7 and 8. The Mayor didn’t say a word at Monday’s Council meeting. The City Clerk didn’t alert the public until Tuesday afternoon, a day after the Council meeting.

Lake City, a City in Trouble
Beginning 2022 on the Wrong Foot

The past year has not been a good one for Lake City.

The City Manager Search was sideways from the beginning.

 See: • Replacing the City Manager:  Pt I – Helfenberger Officially Gone; Foot Dragging City Attorney and City Council Costs Taxpayers Thousands and,
 • Replacing the City Manager: Pt II - Councilman Greene Wants a Headhunter; City Attorney Predicts Fields “Likely to be Next City Manager”

The Search got off on the wrong foot when the City Council ignored its purchasing director telling them the City Manager Search needed to be put out to bid.

The City’s purchasing policy requires purchases over $20,000 to be put out to bid. Renee Narloch & Associates came in at $19,950. However, of the firms contacted, Narloch was the only firm under $20k.

City Attorney Koberlein and then-Councilman Chris Greene were responsible for floating the name of Renee Narloch & Associates. It appears that Attorney Koberlein brought up the Narlock firm to Councilman Greene in a private conversation.

Florida's Sunshine Law does not allow for liaisons to be intermediaries between the City Council and someone else. In spite of that,  City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., announced at a Council meeting that Renee Narloch would be contacting each Council member individually to see what they desired in a city manager. Attorney Koberlein advised the Council members to be sure Ms. Narlock had their personal cell phone numbers.

The extent of Ms. Narloch’s use of those numbers is unknown. It is unknown if Ms. Narloch provided reports of any kind to the City Council.

Councilman Jake Hill told the Council it was important to him that a minority be the next city manager.

No one else on the Council volunteered their requirements.

Nowhere in Ms. Narloch’s information did she mention her firm’s success in diversity hiring.

The headhunting firm overlooked by the Council, and the one Councilman Sampson preferred, Colin Baenziger & Associates, had this to say about its diversity analytics:

“CB&A has extensive contacts with individuals and organizations representing women and minorities. We are thus able to identify and bring a diverse group of finalists to the City. The proof is that from the beginning of 2009, 29% of our placements have been females and/or minorities, with the high in any given year being 47%."

There is a question about what the Council members knew before the December 22 interviews.

Before the interviews, Narloch & Associates was to provide its recommendations. Its proposal stated the following:

RECOMMENDATIONS:   Based on the information gathered through meetings with your organization and preliminary interviews with candidates, we will typically recommend three to five candidates for your consideration. We will prepare a report on each candidate that focuses on the results of our interviews and public record searches to include detailed information pertaining to the candidates' professional experiences and accomplishments, strengths and potential gaps, and background information. We will make specific recommendations, but the final selection of those to be considered will be up to you.

If those reports were provided to the City, they were not included in the agenda for the December 22, 2021, Special City Council meeting.

City Clerk Audrey Sikes prepares the agendas and agenda packets (including adding supporting information).

Interviewing and Meeting the Candidates
A Change of Plans

At the conclusion of the December 22 interviews, the City Council agreed that the two final candidates, Gene Adams and Thomas Thomas, would meet with the City’s department heads on Friday and the public on Friday evening, January 7, 2022. Then on Saturday, January 8, they would be interviewed by the City Council, and the Council was supposed to choose its top pick at that time.

Yesterday afternoon, January 4, the Clerk sent out a notice advertising the special Council meetings for this Friday and Saturday. Only one candidate was on the agenda.

Your reporter called the Clerk and inquired about the missing candidate. Clerk Sikes said Thomas Thomas could not make it on January 7.

Your reporter asked the Clerk who decided to split the interview days. She said, "I think it was the Mayor. You would have to ask him."

A little while later, your reporter called the Mayor and asked him about meeting one candidate one week and the other candidate the following week.

Mayor Witt said, “One candidate couldn’t make it one week; the other couldn’t make it the other. I said, ‘Split them up and let’s get it done.’”

Shortly after speaking with the Mayor, your reporter spoke with Councilman Jake Hill. Mr. Hill was not happy and said he thought both candidates should be interviewed on the same day. Mr. Hill said he was unaware of the change in plans. "Nobody told me," he said.

Councilman Jefferson did not return a call. A message was left on his phone.

Councilman Sampson told your reporter, “I am not in favor of meeting with the candidates separately. I believe there should be one event where both the candidates attend.”

Councilman Sampson concluded, “The background checks should be in the hands of the City before we do the final interviews.”

Epilogue: Lake City, The $50 mil train wreck

And so it goes.

The devolvement of Lake City continues.

With the financial straits in which the City finds itself, it is not clear if it will be able to negotiate a salary with its next city manager, who is going to be hired to captain a $50 mil train wreck.

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