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Lake City City Manager Search: News Stories “Make the City Look Pretty Bad," Jim Hanson

Photo of person looking through binoculars, with caption: Lake City's City Manager Search, "We need all the help we can get," Councilman Eugene Jefferson
Photos by Albert via Unsplash | Columbia County Observer graphic

widget-city-manager-storiesLAKE CITY, FL – Yesterday evening, Jim Hanson, Senior Advisor Florida City and County Management Association (FCCMA), told the City Council, "Lake City has a long history of professional management until the last couple of years. I guess that's why I am here tonight – to try to help you.”


Since June 2021, Lake City has effectively been without a permanent City Manager when the City Council suspended then-City Manager Joe Helfenberger.

It hasn’t been pretty ever since.

Jim Hanson: Professional Government Manager

Jim HansonLast night Jim Hanson, former City Manager of Atlantic Beach, FL, and former Town Manager of Orange Park, Florida, drove from his home in Atlantic Beach to give the City Council some friendly advice.

Mr. Hanson has an undergraduate degree in political science and a master’s in public administration, and a successful career as a government manager in the topsy-turvy world of Florida professional government management.

Lake City Last Night

Mr. Hansen began by explaining the job of City Council members. He said that Council members make policy decisions, approve budgets, and “make long term decisions, particularly approving the strategic plan,” adding, “Those are the difficult decisions.”

Mr. Hansen said that the jobs that city Council members perform are more difficult than the city manager's job.

Mr. Hanson said, “In my career, I have been very lucky to have worked with a lot of very good elected officials… we got a lot done over the years.”

Mr. Hanson observed, “Lake City has a long history of professional management until the last couple of years. I guess that's why I am here tonight -- to try to help you.”

He continued, “I spent a lot of time last week speaking with people about Lake City, including Renee Narloch, your executive search firm/person… And I spent a lot of time reading the news stories of the last couple of years about what all has happened with your managers. Needless to say, those stories aren't good.”

Mr. Hanson did not reveal with whom he spoke.

Mr. Hanson said that he was going to make recommendations. He said that sometimes this is done individually. However, he added, "I think it is probably good for everybody to hear what I am going to say."

The news stories “make the City look pretty bad. I’m sure you already know that,” he said.

“You fired your last permanent manager. That's a red flag to candidates that would look for a job. You'd had a whole series of interim managers. A whole series of pretty negative stories… I can tell you for managers that are looking for where they want to work next, that would be a huge red flag. There are probably a lot of managers that looked at your job and said they didn't want to talk.”

Mr. Hanson said that if the City is perceived as a revolving door, “that hurts a manager’s career potential.”

Salary: It was out of line from the beginning

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

“My opinion is your starting salary is low. You offered $120,000. I think the upper 130s -- 140s would be an appropriate salary range if you expect to get a good manager.

Mr. Hanson said the City’s salary range has hindered Ms. Narloch “from getting as many candidates as she would have liked."

Mr. Hanson said Narloch was one of Florida's "best search firms.”

Members of the public and some City Councilmen do not believe that.

The FCCMA does not do searches for cities with over 10,000 people.

How much is a search consultant?

Renee Narloch on the projection screen
Renee Narloch was last see in City Hall on April 30 on the big screen.

Mr. Hanson said, “I don't know how much you are paying for this search, but it's probably twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five thousand dollars – in that range. That's typical for most cities.”

The City’s search for a City manager and headhunter began on July 12, 2021. The entire process was sideways from the beginning. See: Replacing the City Manager: Pt II - Councilman Greene Wants a Headhunter…

After the City’s Procurement Director Karen Nelmes told the City Council that the City would have to put out an RFP (Request for Proposals) to solicit head hunter proposals, the Council, following the lead of City Attorney Koberlein, ignored her.

Mr. Hanson said, “Executive search firms can do an extensive background check with people… not just criminal and financial, but in many cases a complete Google search and reference check from the cities that they worked in before.”

Ms. Narlock’s background searches were in part anonymous compilations of quotes from unnamed sources.

Nobody told Mr. Hanson that the LCPD sent police investigators on field trips to the former places of employment of the candidate finalists to interview people in parks, knocking on doors, and to their former places of employment.

See: The LCPD Is on the Move.

Mr. Hanson advised the search is continuing: “I have spoken with your search firm consultant, Renee Narloch, at great length. I understand she is ready to bring in a number of qualified candidates for you to interview. I don't know any of them. I didn't even ask for the names of them.”

Mr. Hanson continued, “From what I've seen, you probably have the best group of candidates you are going to get… I don't know if she's given you the current submissions, but she told me she's got another group of candidates to bring to you for your consideration… There's plenty of competition.”

Mr. Hanson’s Recommendations

• Move forward with an interview process as soon as possible with multiple candidates. They will have different strengths and abilities. It is up to you to decide the skills the city needs.

• Be ready to pay at least $130 to $140,000 as starting salary.

• A unanimous decision. “You’re not going to find Superman or Wonder woman.”

City Councilman Eugene Jefferson last night
20 yr. veteran City Councilman Eugene Jefferson (file).

Mr. Hanson added, “A lot of city managers will not take a job on a split vote – no matter what you’re paying, ‘that's too much risk for me.’"

Mr. Hanson said, “I've had some comments from the few people I spoke to. Your City has not accomplished a lot in the last two years.”

Mr. Hanson concluded, “I hope I have not been too blunt… I hope they (the recommendations) are worthwhile.”

The Council Concluded

Mayor Witt said he appreciated Mr. Hanson’s comments.

Councilman Hill asked Mr. Dyal to stay on as the interim city manager until they find somebody.

Councilman Jefferson asked for help in sending out information, adding, “We need all the help we can get.”

Paul Dyal, Interim City Manager
Interim City Manager Paul Dyal   (file)

Before agreeing to stay, Mr. Dyal said, “Someone made some comments against my City -- my staff. I won't tolerate that… To say that we are in a state of disrepair and disarray is false. The City runs like a well-oiled machine… If the Council wants me to stay on, I will.”

Councilman Sampson said the disarray was coming from some of the speakers at the podium.

Mr. Hanson said his remarks about disarray were not directed at the staff.

Mayor Witt allowed former City Councilman Glenel Bowden to make a final comment.


Mr. Bowden addressed the Council and said that the problem was not coming from the public making comments, but from the City Council.

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