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Lake City City Manager Search: Almost 8 Months and Counting – Starting Over

On the Agenda for This Evening – Zero Info

Photo of an almost empty City Council Chamber with caption: City Manager search continues, 8 months and counting: Is the public getting worn out?
When the City Manager discussion came up on Feb. 22, only two members of the public were left, along with a handful of Utility Dept. employees.

widget-city-manager-storiesLAKE CITY, FL – The Lake City City Manager search continues this evening without a scintilla of information about the search with the agenda, other than Renee Narloch “will participate by Zoom.”

Having zero information on the agenda does not mean the City Council, the Clerk, or the City Attorney has not received anything from Ms. Narloch. It just means it is not provided.

City Attorney Fred Koberlein has encouraged secret talks with Ms. Narloch. The City Clerk has received information from Ms. Narloch about the City Manager search, which has not made it to the public with the agendas.

Previously, Clerk Sikes had received a letter from an award-winning attorney critical of the actions of City Attorney Koberlein in the Befaithful Coker issue. It appears that letter did not make it to the City Council meeting.

The City Clerk also never presented the contract documents between headhunter Narloch and the City to the City Council for final approval. None of the Council has said they have read the contract, including the Mayor, who executed the contract on behalf of the City.

The City Attorney seemed like he was in the dark regarding the Narloch contract execution until February 2022, when he requested a copy of the contract.

After 8 Months: Narloch Starting Over

On February 22, 2022, after two hours of mayhem, the City Council got down to discuss the City Manager search.

Renee Narloch of Narloch & Associates Zoomed herself into the Council meeting, which by this time had two residents in attendance and five members of the utility department. Everyone else had abandoned ship.

The local mainstream media and official newspaper of Columbia County, the Lake City Reporter, did not have a reporter present during the February 22 meeting.

Renee Narloch on the big screen in City Hall
Ms. Narloch appeared like a Shakespearean apparition at the February Council meeting.  Columbia County Observer Photo

Ms. Narloch told the Council: “I just wanted to join your meeting for a few minutes to give you an update on the city manager recruitment process. As you know, we had two candidates that we were talking with that took opportunities elsewhere. And we just jumped right back on the horse right away.”

Ms. Narloch continued: “We've been recruiting. We've been doing outreach.

She said she is looking at the existing pool of candidates and supplementing "the pool we have – opened it up."

Ms. Narloch said there are new applicants who are calling that are in discussions with us. Some former candidates inquired about their status and asked to continue to be considered for the opportunity.

Ms. Narloch added that she had "refreshed some ads," and she is "reaching out to people…that might be interested."

Ms. Narloch said that on the next meeting (tonight's), she "may even be ready to set a date…for first-round video interviews for the top three or four candidates. We're going to move this deal along quickly.”

Ms. Narloch said she is “not starting over from scratch," and she wanted to "capitalize on the momentum that we have.”

So far, the City’s “momentum” is a laughing stock to the outside world.

Ms. Narloch continued: “I am staying the course relative to things we have talked about: the needs of the City. The salary comfort level that I had communicated to you that you shared with me initially and I shared with candidates. I'm staying the course on that.”

Because of the secret nature of the entire City Manager search, no one knows what the Council shared with Ms. Narloch. Rather than have a workshop where the Council could have openly discussed what it was looking for in a City Manager, it played telephone with Ms. Narloch and the City Attorney.

More Secrets

Ms. Narloch concluded: “If there's anything in addition to what you shared with me already that I need to be looking for, or that I need to be aware of, I ask that you reach out to me directly and share that with me.”

Sampson Asks Questions & a Discovery

Spread sheet of  city manager salaries
+++ Click to expand

Councilman Sampson said, "The Clerk pulled us a report on the ten above – ten below cities and what they are paying the city manager. I'm kind of concerned about the salary range. The numbers are from 2019. Are we far off the number?”

Although Clerk Sikes explained in an email to the Council and City Attorney that the spreadsheet figures were from “2019,” they were not. The only figures from 2019 were the millage rate and population. The rest of the figures were from 2018, except for the City Manager salaries, which were not dated.

According to emails received through Florida's Public Record law, the first spreadsheet acquired by the City Clerk on February 18 did not include City Manager salaries. The Clerk forwarded that spreadsheet to the Council. Without the salaries, it was relatively useless. [correction]*

On February 22, less than an hour before the City Council meeting, Councilman Sampson received an updated spreadsheet with the salaries. He was the only one who received it.

Ms. Narlock addressed the salaries:  “I would say you were on the lower end of the range. I am comfortable with that because even though I told the candidates to begin with that, you started the last manager at 120, that you have budgeted 130, which they knew that…I feel that like for any candidate that might need to be higher, that gives us that window to negotiate up. And that's exactly what we were doing with our first pick. Our finalist was negotiating up. I don't feel like you need to go above 150 for Lake City.”

CouncilmanTodd Sampson
CouncilmanTodd Sampson

Councilman Sampson said, “That's my concern because you're looking at ten above ten below, and their medians was 147, and their average is 155. And that is in 2019 numbers.”

It wasn’t. It was 2018.

Mr. Sampson continued, “I don't want to be the employer that’s so far below everybody else. You saw what happened last time when we only paid 120.”

Ms. Narlock responded, “Council member, I would say 120 is too low. 120 is too low for a city of your size. It's too low for a city of your complexity. Comparatively speaking, the towns that will pay 120 are very, very small communities -- 1500 residents and things like that. 130 is doable for some folks, but I do feel like you're going to be in the 130s. When I say that, I think at the top of the range, maybe even tipping 140.”

After some more conversation, Mr. Sampson asked, “In two weeks are we going to have the candidate list narrowed down?” (Two weeks is tonight).

Ms. Narloch explained her plan:  “In two weeks, I will give you an update, and in that update, I hope to tell you that I have at least three candidates that I am ready to move forward and that I would even start talking dates with you. So we are talking within the next 30 days; my goal is for you to have your next round of video interviews with the top three or four candidates for the job.”

What About the Narloch Contract?

Your reporter addressed the Council. He mentioned that the City Council did not approve the Narloch contract. "It is the first time I have ever seen a contract not be approved by the city council. I don't know why that was. The Clerk made a decision that because some procurement policy was waived, that obliterated the reason for the City Council to approve the contract...”

Your reporter continued, “None of you apparently know what was in the contract. I don't know how you would if you didn't get to approve it. My question is, 'where is the city attorney?' Because through some of the emails that I got, I didn't get all of them...the City Attorney apparently didn't even have the contract and had to ask for it.”

Your reporter mentioned that if the Council and City Attorney had read the contract, they would have found nothing explaining what would happen if Ms. Narloch didn't find a City Manager candidate on the first go around, adding, "They both left. And the truth be known, the first guy said, the City Council didn't know what it was doing, and because of some phone calls that somebody made to the second candidate’s minor daughter, he wasn't even going to come for the interview. He wasn't even going to sit for the interview. That truth be known. Now you're starting all over again, with a consultant who couldn't deliver.”

Almost Eight Months and No Candidate

After almost eight months, Narloch & Associates did not deliver a City Manager candidate who was willing to be employed by the City Council.

The Narloch Contract executed by Mayor Witt is silent on whether the Council is obligated to honor the contract and have Ms. Narloch search all over again?

Your reporter asked, “What I would like to know tonight, where is she getting these candidates from? The leftover list of people that didn’t make the grade the first time? And why you guys did not read the contract?”

Councilman Sampson was silent, as were the other Councilmen.

Mayor Witt ended the conversation.


Mayor Witt said, “We’ll get an update next meetin’.”

Tonight is that meeting.

*correction:  the spreadsheet received from the Florida League of Cities did include the salary figures, which were at the end of a 254 column spread sheet. Public records provided by the clerk show that Mr. Sampson was the only one who received the modified spreadsheet via email.

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