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Lake City News

LC City Manager Search: Over, After Almost Two-and-a-Half Years, LC Has a New City Manager – Don Rosenthal

LC City Manager candidate Don Rosenthal listens to a question
Don Rosenthal listens to a question from Councilman Jake Hill.

LAKE CITY, FL – After a grueling search that has realistically gone on since January 2022, Lake City has a new City Manager. Yesterday afternoon, in a unanimous vote, former Assistant Pasco County Administrator Don Rosenthal was named Lake City’s next City Manager.

Rosenthal infoAt 1 pm yesterday afternoon, when the public was working to support their families, the City Council met to choose a permanent City Manager.

Seven members of the public showed up. Present in and around the Council Chambers were almost as many police.

Walking in at 1:05 pm, the last member of the public, Glenel Bowden

Announced candidate for mayor Sylvester Warren and former City Councilman Glenel Bowden both complained to the Council about the scheduling of the meeting. Mr. Bowden told the Council that he was retired, which was why he could attend, but most of the public didn't have that option.

There was no response from the Council.

The Business of Chosing A City Manager

It was serious business for the Council members, who looked like they were taking it seriously.

A little bit of humor was provided by Councilman Ricky Jernigan, who on Wednesday gave the candidates his private tour of the City with the Good Housekeeping stamp of approval by City Attorney Clay Martin. Mr. Jernigan mentioned that the paparazzi were following his motorcade. It wasn't the paparazzi. It was former Councilman Glenel Bowden who did the public a service by auditing Mr. Jernigan's travels with the candidates.

Mr. Jernigan also quipped that he would be asking questions provided to the Council, but that he didn’t know where they came from. The questions came from BillyJo Bible, the City’s HR Director.

Councilwoman Young and Councilman Hill brought their own questions. Mayor Witt, Councilmen Carter and Jernigan used the City's questions.

First Up: Lake City Police Chief Gerald Butler

Mr. Jernigan asked the first question. The answer would have been perfect if the Chief had applied for the police chief position. At the time the Chief was appointed to his present position, he was not given the opportunity to present his credentials. Yesterday afternoon, he did.

Mr. Jernigan asked: What particular skills or experiences make you the best match to be the City Manager?

LC  Police Chief Gerald ButlerChief Butler: “I've been a police officer for 40 years. The last 20 years I've been in command positions. When I retired from the Milford [Ct.] Police department for two years, I was deputy chief. Prior to that, I was the administrative patrol captain for many years – sorry, administrative and detective captain for many years. When I came to Lake City as Assistant Police Chief, I assisted Chief Gilmore with the budgeting [and] management of the department. About two and a half years ago, when Chief Gilmore resigned to go back to Tallahassee, I took over as the police chief. I've been in that capacity ever since; with that budgeting, strategic planning. In that position, I've also worked closely with the city council members and the community. That includes the business community. I'm very familiar with the needs of Lake City. I believe it's a great community. It's on the verge of expansion, and I want to be part of that.”

Councilman Jake Hill
All Council members were taking the selection serioulsy.

As the questions alternated from Council member to Council member, with Councilman Hill particularly concentrating on prior experience in utilities, public works, and City-wide economic development, it was clear that Chief Butler knew police management and overall management requisites, but came up short on experience which was not in his 'wheel-house'.

Don Rosenthal: Assistant County Administrator Pasco County

Councilman Jernigan
Councilman Jernigan listens to Mr. Rosenthal.

Mr. Jernigan asked Mr. Rosenthal: “What particular skills or experiences make you the best match to be the City Manager?”

Mr. Rosenthal: “Well, I'm thinking the skills that have to do with economic development, with managing public works and, sewers, with managing, departments. All the departments that you have here, we've managed in Pasco County, and my years of experience doing just that.

Mayor Witt asked Mr. Rosenthal: “From your current vantage point, what do you perceive to be the opportunities and challenges facing the City of Lake City now and in the future?”

Mr. Rosenthal: “Well, opportunities I see growth and how you manage that growth, making sure you have the people, the technical expertise to look at that growth and do the plan reviews properly. Some threats are that if you don't have the right people in place to do that, you can be sued. I think those are also opportunities because you are experiencing growth now. What's important is how you grow. You don't want to grow in such a way that you put the burden of that growth on the backs of the existing citizens. You want that growth to be handled as much as possible through your impact fees and your permit fees.”

Councilwoman Chavella Young
Councilwoman Young came with her own questions.

Councilwoman Young asked:  “Mr. Rosenthal, how would balance economic development with preserving the essential character of the City?”

Mr. Rosenthal: "In every situation I could foresee, I would bring that before the board with my recommendation. The board could actually go along with my recommendation or do something else. I would try to not let economic development ruin what you were trying to maintain in certain areas of the City.”

Councilman James Carter
Councilman James Carter, the Council's newest member, listens to Mr. Rosenthal.

Councilman Carter asked, “If you became the new City Manager, what do you believe would be your greatest resources to help you transition into the position?”

Mr. Rosenthal: “The department heads. The current department heads on staff right now, and the assistant city manager."

The Decision

After a ten-minute recess to give the Council time to gather its thoughts, the Council reconvened.

Before taking the vote, it was agreed that the Council's decision was subject to a candidate background check and successful contract negotiations with the candidate.

Councilwoman Young said she thought Chief Butler "has good intentions, but he has [the] bare minimum of the required experience." Ms. Young added, "We need a well-experienced City Manager."

Ms. Young made a motion to “receive Mr. Rosenthal as our City Manager.”

Before seconding the motion, Councilman Hill said that during his private meeting with the Chief, "He expressed to me that he always wanted to be a police chief."

Councilman Carter said, “I think we’re blessed to have two excellent candidates… I think Mr. Rosenthal’s experience what we’re looking for.”

Councilman Jernigan said, “I believe Mr. Rosenthal is an excellent candidate.”

Mayor Steve Witt
Mayor Witt listening intently to the proceding.

Mayor Witt said, “We’re very fortunate to have two extremely qualified people…. What we need is leadership.”

Councilman Hill followed up, “In our conversation, I told Chief Butler that this was nothing personal. This is what the City needs – an experienced City Manager. He told me, I understand where you’re coming from.”

The City Clerk polled the Council. Ms. Young, Mr. Carter, Mr. Hill, and Mr. Jernigan voted yes. Mayor Witt, always the last to vote, said, "I want to make it unanimous – yes."

Brief Conversations With Chief Butler & Mr. Rosenthal

After the meeting, your reporter spoke briefly with both candidates.

Chief Butler was gracious. He said, “I hope Rosenthal excels. I hope he does great. I look forward to working with him. He has a lot of innovative ideas. I believe he is going to be a benefit to the City.”

Your reporter asked about the Chief's future.

Chief Butler said, “I don’t bounce around. This is my last stop. Mr. Rosenthal’s experience is in economic development and that is what we need here.”

Your reporter asked, “Is there anything else?”

Chief Butler said, “I like being the police chief.”

A couple of hours later, your reporter caught up with Mr. Rosenthal. One could tell it was a long four days for Mr. Rosenthal, and the conversation was brief.

Your reporter asked, “How are you feeling.”

Mr. Rosenthal said, "I'm a little tired, and excited. I learned a lot while I was up there and I see endless possibilities for Lake City.”

Your reporter asked when he thought he would be able to start.

Mr. Rosenthal said, “I have to send a contract to the City to begin negotiations. I have to find a place to live – probably an apartment – and I have some personal business to take care of, including my grandson's high school graduation in Missouri. I am sure we will be able to work all that out sooner, rather than later.”

Your reporter asked Mr. Rosenthal if he had anything else.

Mr. Rosenthal mentioned his two days riding around in cars with Chief Butler: on day one with Councilman Jernigan (it seemed while completely unorthodox -- it was worthwhile) and with Interim City Manager Dee Johnson on day two.

Mr. Rosenthal said, "After spending two days riding around with the Chief [Police Chief Butler], I look forward to working with him."

Unless there is a fly in the ointment, Lake City will soon be off on a new adventure – on the right foot for a change.

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