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Lake City’s City Manager Search, Thomas Thomas (Pt-II): face-to-face, mostly out of the public’s eye – Thomas Thomas is the one – maybe

Photo of sinking ship with caption: Lake City, City Manager Candidate Thomas Thomas, will he agree to captain a sinking ship?
Photo: Sam Power via Unsplash | Columbia County Observer graphic

widget-city-manager-storiesLAKE CITY, FL – The tortuous seven-month route to a permanent Lake City City Manager may have finally come to an end on Wednesday morning. Thomas Thomas was the City Council's number one pick to take the helm of the Lake City Ship of State, a ship taking on water – fast.

Background: Where is Lake City Now? What Does a City Manager Do? Where is the City Plan?

Lake City is in dire straights. The entire top management of the City is unfilled: fire chief, police chief, HR Director, assistant city manager, and city manager.

City Manager candidate Thomas Thomas listens to the Lake City City Council
City Manager candidate Thomas Thomas listens.

The City Council destroyed Lake City's play plan during the last budget cycle.

While not technically broke, Lake City would be in serious trouble if all vacant management positions were filled.

The City Manager is at the helm of the City's day-to-day operations. The City Manager is the City's Chief budget officer; recruits and hires, supervises and terminates the City staff.

The City Manager is supposed to serve as the chief advisor to the Council. The Manager provides complete and objective information about local operations, discusses options, offers assessments of the long-term consequences of decisions, and makes policy recommendations.

Lastly, the Manager carries out the policies established by the Council. (Duties of the City Manager via the ICMA).

Planning: Since 2009, the City Council, the City's governing body, has developed or overseen no plans except for one, the Downtown Redeveolopment Master Plan, which sometimes is followed and sometimes not.

The City has no strategic plan, no growth plan, and no utility master plan. The City had a utility master plan at one time, but that has been ignored while for almost two decades the City and County posture and make up stories in a never-ending blame game.

These are some of the issues that will be confronting Thomas Thomas, the Council’s number one pick if he chooses to take the job as Lake City’s next City Manager.

The City Council
What Did it Really Ask Candidate Thomas?

For two hours before the Council special meeting on Wednesday morning, the Council members went off script and met one on one with candidate Thomas. Each Councilman was given thirty minutes of face-to-face time to share their concerns and ask questions. The Council member's concerns are anybody's guess, as they shared nothing once the meeting was gaveled to order ten minutes late. For some of them, it may have been the Narloch provided questions.

During the Special Meeting, the Council spent thirty-five minutes asking Mr. Thomas questions, almost all of which came from headhunter Narloch.

Mr. Thomas on the City Council and City Dept. Directors

Mr. Thomas explained he had observed the City Council in action online and attended the Council's meeting the evening before:  "You are managing day to day. You need to begin setting goals on an annual basis. You need to determine what you can realistically accomplish in the next year."

Mr. Thomas said, “My strength is my financial acumen.”

Mr. Thomas said no more than two weeks "should go by" without meeting with the Council members. He said this "helps the Council be successful."

Mr. Thomas said he would evaluate the city department directors in his first 90 days.

Mr. Thomas on Community Engagement

Lake City City Manager candidate Thomas Thomas takes notes.
Thomas Thomas takes notes.

"I have an open-door policy… finding ways to put out information to the community… have a group email to keep the council informed… understanding it is a 24-7 job… being visible."

Mr. Thomas said he has no problem meeting in the community with the community.

Mr. Thomas on his qualifications: “I have twenty-five years of experience working in local government… I've been a budget analyst and a planner…. A city manager."

Mr. Thomas said, “Sharing of information is critical.”

Mr. Thomas said he has experience in interlocal agreements between county and city and economic development site development.

Mr. Thomas on economic development and perception: “It can be perceived as a negative if the intergovernmental relationship is not working well.”

On Freedom of the Press

Lake City City Manager Candidate Thomas Thomas makes a point.
Thomas Thomas makes a point.

Mr. Thomas: "Reporters have a functional role in our government just like we do. If something is written, it is freedom of the press; they have the ability to write something."

Mr. Thomas added that if something is written and erroneous and is "brought to my attention that impacts services and is inaccurate, then I may feel the need to address it from that specific narrow view. I don't address issues on personal attacks… That's part of being a public employee, and you're going to get those kinds of personal attacks."

When can Mr. Thomas start: "I would have a discussion with my wife about the timetable."

Mr. Thomas said it would be two to three months, and he would have to find someplace to live.


Retreats where the elected leaders and others head into the woods, or a posh hotel resort, to brainstorm, evaluate, plan, and work out issues with a professional facilitator are common in the civilized world. In Lake City/Columbia County, this form of interaction is basically unknown and unexplored.

Mr. Thomas said retreats would be one of his tools in moving Lake City forward and is a tool for “consensus building."

Councilman Hill asked, "Would you hire an assistant city manager?"

Mr. Thomas answered, "First, I would have to assess the organization."

Mr. Thomas on grants: “Having a grant writer to assist all departments would be very helpful.”

Councilman Sampson asked for an explanation of the gaps in Mr. Thomas’ employment, i.e., why wasn’t he working in an administration role [city manager]?

Mr. Thomas: “There are times when you are working as a city manager. You work someplace five-six years, and you decide to do something else in your life."

Mr. Thomas explained he went into the private sector to help his wife with her business. “I’ve been consistent. My references are outlined. I left places and sustained good relationships with the people I’ve worked with.”

The Final Question: the answeres were in the back room

Mayor Witt asked, “Is there anything you’d like to ask us?”

Mr. Thomas answered, "I think I have had those individual conversations with you, so I don't have any other follow-up questions."

Mayor Witt:  “Thank you very much.”

Thomas Thomas Gets the Nod

Without much conversation among the members, Thomas Thomas was the pick to be Lake City's next City Manager.


Mr. Thomas will be discussing Lake City with his wife and family.

Will he consider further the position of City Manager?

It is Lake City; right now, nobody knows, or nobody is talking.

Does the public have a right to know? It is Lake City.

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