News Pensacola Politics

Council Eyes Executive Finalists

May 23, 2012

The Pensacola City Council may select its new council executive tomorrow. The board has been presented with four candidates.

“I’m ready to make a selection,” said Councilman Ronald Townsend on Tuesday. “I’m hoping we can go ahead and finalize this.”

The city council met three of the four candidates during the Committee of the Whole meeting Monday. The fourth was unable to be there.

The city council has been searching for a person to attend to its administrative needs. Last fall, the board invited its top pick to town, but he declined the offer.

“This has been an 18 month process believe it or not,” said City Administrator Bill Reynolds.

Reynolds explained this week that the city’s Human Resources Department, along with a selection committee comprised of city council members, has been handling the process—“I stuck my head in at one of the meetings.” There were five finalist for the position, but one person withdrew.

The final candidates are Donald Kelly, an urban planner for the city of Pensacola; Terrence Milstead, PhD, a Pensacola native and assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at Appalachian State University in North Carolina; Miranda Spradley, an office manager at the Wattsville Water Authority in Alabama; and Vanessa Watson, a teacher at Warrington Middle School.

“Any one of them could do the job,” said Townsend.

City Council President Sam Hall’s assessment was less glowing.

“I’m not excited about them,” Hall said Tuesday.

The council president said that he would work with whoever the board decided on—“and be delighted to”—but also felt that the selection of candidates were not of the professional caliber he was hoping for. Hall attributed this to the salary cap of about $80,000.

“My objection before we even started this process was that the price-point was too low,” he said, drawing comparisons to the city administrator. “Bill Reynolds came in at $125,000. You look at that guy’s resume and it’s not just sterling, it’s sterling capped in gold.”

Hall recalled mentioning the position to an out-of-town acquaintance who works in a similar field. The reaction was unsettling.

“I said this is what’s being offered and she laughed at me,” he said.

In late April, Hall tried to persuade his fellow board members to keep Elaine Mager—a longtime city employee who has served the council since August—on the job beyond her planned retirement, in six-month intervals for up to two years. The council wasn’t receptive to the concept, but the suggestion did lead to a conversation about the ongoing search for an executive.

“Quite frankly, I’ve asked you guys about this and it’s like pulling teeth—it’s hush-hush, it’s personnel issues,” Hall told Reynolds at the time. “I haven’t heard anything from you guys, and I’ve asked specific questions.”

During that meeting—an April 23 Committee of the Whole meeting—Reynolds said that he thought the board needed to better clarify the job description.

“I think the lack of clarity on this issue is because this body has not determined what it wants,” Reynolds told the board.

Councilman John Jerralds agreed, saying the council was “wandering around in the dark with a blindfold at night.” But Councilman Townsend felt the board had been clear.

“I think we’re all saying the same thing here,” he said at the meeting, suggesting that Hall approach Mayor Ashton Hayward personally about the matter.

Reynolds informed the council at that time that the HR department had been working on the issue, and had narrowed the field.

Councilwoman Megan Pratt said during the April meeting that she was “frustrated” to hear there was a list of finalists for the position and the council had yet to find out. Pratt, along with Townsend, Jerralds and Councilman Brian Spencer, comprise the Council Executive Selection Committee.

“The committee was sort of disbanded and the administration has reviewed them and I for one would love to hear where everything is,” Pratt said in April.

The administrator said a slate of five candidates could be available “quite literally within two weeks.”

“I just need a thumbs up,” Reynolds said.

During this week’s city council meeting, the board may select one of the four final candidates that have been offered up. Some council members filled out rating cards on the candidates on Monday, but the city has yet to make those cards public.

“Not all of them filled it out, some of them had a problem with it,” explained Mager.

Information on the finalists was also not readily available for public viewing. The information was not included in this week’s agenda packet—because the matter was slated as a Discussion Item—and after HR and various city staffers were unable to locate information pertaining to the final four candidates, Derek Cosson, the city’s public information officer, was able to provide names and resumes.

Cosson is currently determining the dates of selection committee meetings. The HR department has been unable to provide that information as of yet.

When asked this week, Councilman Jerralds said the committee had been working “hand in hand, step by step with HR.” He could not, however, recall when the group met.

“It was off and on, on an as needed basis,” Jerralds said. “Call HR and let them explain it.”

Councilman Townsend estimated the most recent committee meeting to have been a couple of months ago. He said committee members met twice collectively, as well as one-on-one with HR. He said he didn’t recall anyone from the public attending the meetings—which was held in the HR department’s offices—but was sure the occasions were advertised.

Mager said that Suzanne Humphrey headed up the effort for HR. Humphrey—previously the director of the city’s Civil Service department—said Tuesday that she had attended one of the selection committee meetings a couple of months ago. She said that no member of the public had attended that meeting, and said that HR Administrator Sherrer Kuchera had taken more of a lead role than she in the process.

Kuchera has been unavailable this week. Cosson is currently locating the minutes from the meetings between the selection committee and HR, as well as information pertaining to when these meetings were advertised to the public.

Councilman Townsend and President Hall said that the council executive candidates the board will pick from this week were derived from the original batch of candidates.

“These were guys that were in that initial list,” Hall said.

Townsend said he was concerned that some members of council did not seem ready to select from the given lot.

“I’m so disappointed,” he said, referring to the board’s reaction Monday.

Hall said he still felt that Mager would be the “best initial candidate.”

“She’s got 45 years experience. This lady is remarkable,” Hall said this week. “That 7th floor—she is sort of a focal point of what goes on in this city.”

The council will hold a special Committee of the Whole meeting at city hall tomorrow at 5 p.m.—a half hour prior to the board’s regular meeting—in order to take up the council executive issue.

—check back tomorrow for a more in-depth look at the final selection of candidates for the council executive position.

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