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LC City Manager Search: After 9 Mo. Rollercoaster Ride – Headhunter Contract Terminated

Photo of rollercoaster with caption: Lake City City Manager Search. After nine month rollercoaster ride headhunter terminated.
Photo: Mark Asthoff via Unsplash| Columbia County Observer graphic

widget-city-manager-storiesLAKE CITY, FL – Over the past few months, when talking about Lake City, Mayor Steven Witt has not been shy about mentioning, “Lake City is a laughing stock.” Years of out-of-control meetings and a city manager search that has gone off the rails has folks all over Florida shaking their heads in agreement.

For fifty-five minutes last night in City Hall, three City Councilmen, and the Mayor continued their almost year-long city manager search. It turned into a rollercoaster ride that was not a pretty sight.

Article Map

Background - Koberlein blots out Florida "Sunshine"
Headhunter reminds herself of secret conversations
The candidates
Headhunter asks for direction
The first vote
She needs to pay us back the money
Polling the board, "Bad from the beginning." Another vote
Another motion - another vote

Background: September 15, 2021
The evening City Attorney Fred Koberlein blotted out Florida “Sunshine”

On September 15, 2021, as the evening’s Council meeting drew to a close, City Attorney Fred Koberlein announced that he had provided the "search firm" (Renee Narloch & Associates) with the "direct" numbers of each of the Council members.

Attorney Koberlein said, "I do know part of the process is that they will interview you all and look at and discuss your vision of what you feel where the City's at, where it needs to go, and the positives and negatives of what you are looking for. And so, if you see a phone number that's odd, please check voicemails."

City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.
City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., was instrumental in bringing Renee Narloch to Lake City.   (file photo)

City Attorney Koberlein could have recommended a workshop where the Council could have discussed their visions in front of the public in the “Sunshine.” Instead, Mr. Koberlein preferred the shadows.

Good government & the public have been paying the price.

Renee Narloch has been in control of the show ever since.

Ms. Narlock Zooms Into last night’s Council Meeting;
Reminds Herself of the Secret Conversations

Headhunter Narloch introduced herself, “Hi, Mayor. Hi Council members… Thank you all for the opportunity to meet with you again tonight… We have been keeping you updated on our progress.”

Headhunter Renee Narloch Zooms into LC City Council meeting

For the first time since Ms. Narloch officially began her headhunting a little over nine months ago, she revealed some of what she had gleaned from her private conversations with the Council members. In other words, this is what Ms. Narloch said Lake City’s Council members shared with her in private.

Ms. Narloch began: “Some of the things that were shared by each of you that were important to the city is [sic] that someone that is professional, accountable, honest, a person of integrity that will advocate for staff and promote training and staff development, as well as the ability to influence the agency's overall culture and morale, also someone who could build rapport and trust -- build relationships with the community, with stakeholders, including in participating in community activities and civic engagement was important.”

She continued, “As far as their personal attributes, someone who's personable, accessible, transparent, inclusive, fosters an open dialogue would be welcomed in the City.”

“The city manager would be tasked to take a fresh look at the agency to assess its overall effectiveness and bring it forward in areas where needed.”

“The city was looking for a sound approach to performance management, best practices, and strategic planning was important…."

“Primarily, what stood out to me at the time was discussions about connecting with the community; discussions about some knowledge about utilities in order to continue some of the growth that was happening out near the airport at the time, and of course, now you are expanding in supporting development out there by putting utilities out that way. And that was an economic generator for the city. That was something that Council members seem to be interested in someone who could help support that role.”

“I just wanted to circle back around just to remind me of what we're looking for and also just share that with others that may want to know -- the conversations that we actually had on the front-end.”

No one verified Ms. Narloch's characterizations of the "front-end" conversations.

The Candidates

link to candidate's resumesMs. Narloch acknowledged that a couple of candidates were listed out of order. She reviewed the three candidate’s information, beginning with the second candidate, and spent about eight minutes a candidate.

Then, Ms. Narloch said, “Just to make clear that you understand this, the place we are in our process - we have done preliminary interviews with these candidates. We have probably done a fly-by on their newspaper articles. We have not touched base with these candidates in the last week to see if anything has changed on their end. I'm sure I'll find out when I call to give them a status update of tonight's meeting and tonight's discussion."

Ms. Narloch then went over the rest of the process: interviews, meeting with the staff, meeting with the public, checking references, and doing background checks.

Headhunter Narlock Asks for Direction
The Response Was Not What She Expected

Ms. Narloch continued, “I ask you to give me some sort of direction tonight… I'll be glad to answer any questions that you have.”

Lake City Mayor Steve Witt
Mayor Steve Witt (file)

Mayor Witt asked if there were any comments from the Councilmen.

Mr. Sampson said, “I've got some comments. It looks like all these candidates are looking to move into our area for their convenience.”

Mayor Witt said, “Right.”

Mr. Sampson gave a rundown on his view of the candidates. He didn't feel that they were acceptable to lead Lake City. “Once again, the candidates are underwhelming. I would make a motion to terminate Ms. Narloch’s and Narloch & Associates effective immediately.”

Councilman Hill followed up, “I tried to give Ms. Narloch the benefit of the doubt. She hasn't really produced any candidates worth voting for or lookin’ at. I would second that motion.”

Sylvester Warren
Sylvester Warren (file)

Community Activist Sylvester Warren came to the microphone and was recognized:  “We've been at this for a while…at some point, Ms. Narloch is goin' to have to tell us she has gone as far as she could go… What the City is lookin' for is for somebody to be the captain of the frickin' yacht… None of what I've heard for the last 45 minutes comes close to it… I think we are at the point where we have to file for divorce…."

Mr. Warren, who now many times approaches his comments as if he were on the Council, concluded, “I’m not gonna stand in the way of it.”

Former City Councilman Glenel Bowden was invited to the microphone, “I really don’t have anything to add,” he said, and then spoke for a time.

Citizen Shawn Holgren came to the microphone, “I can't really talk to whether Ms. Narloch is the best candidate research firm because in many ways your actions as Council members -- you failed to deliver to the City… you had several candidates that you failed to negotiate with, and then after the fact you decided that $160,000 salary was acceptable. I think you should consider another firm… I don't believe that with your broken HR department and your lack of senior management, you have the capacity to hire this level of position by yourself. Please consider using a professional search firm if you are going to cancel this contract.”

Councilman Eugene Jefferson
Councilman Jefferson    (file photo)

Mayor Witt said it wasn’t Ms. Narloch’s fault: “I think we have to have a firm because it's just the process that they have to reach out and do a lot of the work that Ms. Narloch’s done… if it is the will of the Council to terminate the contract, then I think we need to get somebody else to do the same thing. I'm not in favor of changing it. I think it's not her fault.”

Veteran Councilman Eugene Jefferson weighed in, “If we go that route, choose another firm, do we have a feel of what they would do any differently? They are all utilizing the same pool as I understand it. That would be one of my concerns.”

Mayor Witt said, “Mine, too.”

Councilman Sampson went back to the beginning: “If you go back to the decision to hire Ms. Narloch, which I was against from the beginning, and you look at those packages, you would see that the Baenziger package, although more expensive, was far more thorough. If you look at their experience in general, I think it's not even close… At the League of Cities meeting that I went to recently, a lot of people are using them. They're doin' a lot of searches. It seems like we've been at this almost a year. You look at the value of the applications - they are reducing… I think we underestimated the value [salaries], which is something we should have gotten information on from our headhunter. She should have come in and said, 'No, you're not in the right price range.' Now we have an opportunity to fix that.”

Councilman Jake Hill
Councilman Jake Hill                    (file photo)

The First Vote

The clerk called the roll to sever the Narloch contract. The vote was 2-2, with Councilmen Hill and Sampson in favor; Councilman Jefferson and Mayor Witt against.

Councilman Sampson wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer, “I think we need a recess so some people can think about this. There is no way we can move forward like this… How can we trust that she [Narloch] is bringing us the best applicant… we can't settle for this. This has gone on way too long.”

Mayor Witt ignored Mr. Sampson’s remark.

Mr. Sampson asked for another idea.

Mayor Witt said, “We can let her keep lookin’.”

Councilmen Sampson and Hill, almost in unison, “That’s not working."

Mayor Witt said, “Suggest somebody else.”

Mr. Sampson said the City would be better off picking somebody up off the street, which brought some chuckles from the audience.

“She needs to pay us back the money…we need to keep talking”

Councilman Todd Sampson
Councilman Todd Sampson   (file photo)

Mr. Sampson continued, “It is unacceptable what's going on. She needs to pay us back the money. The contract said 90 days; we're going on a year… This is absolutely unacceptable that we've allowed this, as a group, to go on for a year… I think we should sit here and keep talking about it until we come to some kind of consensus on what we are going to do.”

Polling the Board: “Bad from the beginning;” another vote

Mr. Sampson continued, “The way Ms. Narloch’s gone about this is the most non-transparent way I've seen. Callin’ each person individually to poll to see which direction we want to go. That's not the right way to do this. It should have been out in the open… This process has been bad-from-the-beginning. I’m confused with the level of ignorance it takes to allow that to continue.”

Mayor Witt had a solution, “”Hire Baenziger. Let both of them work.”

Sylvester Warren, the 'councilman' from the audience, "I’m not goin’ to sit here and let my tax dollars be spent twice on one person. That’s nuts. You pay for it out of your pocket.”

Mayor Witt responded, “I agree with Mr. Warren about hiring somebody else.”

Mr. Sampson said, “What’s the term from that TV show, ‘You’re fired.’ That's what you do. And when you fire them, you hire somebody else and say, 'This is your opportunity to perform.'”

Mr. Sampson asks Attorney Koberlein whether or not he can make another motion at the meeting to terminate Ms. Narloch.

Mr. Sampson made another motion to terminate Ms. Narloch’s contract.

Again, Mr. Hill made a second.

There was another 2-2 split.

Another motion – Another vote

Mr. Sampson made another motion to terminate Ms. Narloch’s contract.

Again, Mr. Hill made a second.

Mr. Warren approached the microphone: “This contract ain't workin', Mayor. It ain't workin'… This needs to end.”

Mr. Sampson suggests hiring headhunter Colin Baenziger as an emergency.

Mr. Sampson restates his motion: “Terminate Ms. Narloch and hire Baenziger as an emergency. We don’t have leadership in place.”

Mayor Witt asks Councilman Hill if he seconds it. He does.

The clerk calls the roll.

This time the vote to terminate Ms. Narloch was 4-0.

Neither Jefferson nor Witt explained their change of heart.


Before this article was published, Councilman Sampson said, "I was ready to sit there for three days. Lake City needs to begin moving forward again."

City procurement will have to reach out to Colin Baenziger and find out if he is still interested in being Lake City's headhunter and if his price is still good after a year.

It is commonly thought it will take years to salvage what is left of Lake City's reputation.

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