| Fort Myers News-Press
In a move that could reduce the odds of finding the next city manager among local candidates, Fort Myers City Council members appeared to agree Thursday to change course and launch a national search.
No formal vote was taken but a council consensus emerged at a workshop session to invite national search firms to submit proposals for guiding the search for a city manager to replace Saeed Kazemi, who is retiring. The decision could be finalized and a firm hired sometime next month.
Councilman Johnny Streets, longest serving of the council members, guided colleagues from supporting local recruiting to considering a wider national search to broaden the potential pool of applicants.
After members heard a presentation from the city human resources department explaining its potential role in the process, members bantered about reviewing resumes and considering how many finalists could be recommended by each member.
Then Streets, who represents Ward 2, changed the direction of the discussion.
“When you’re talking about hiring a city manager, we need to be as close to almost perfect as we can. That means someone who has knowledge from several fields, not just one,” Streets said. “That’s why I have a concern about a process that does not include a nationwide search.”
Ward 5 Councilman Fred Burson joined Streets in looking for an expanded search.
“I want to hire a national firm to cast a bigger net,” Burson said.
At a meeting last month, Mayor Kevin Anderson appeared to have support from enough members for the locally oriented search he has appeared to favor.
In one exchange with Anderson, Burson said he was concerned that the city widen the search to be sure of hiring someone with what he said was “needed experience” and background.
“We’re not looking at just anybody,” Burson said.
Anderson quickly jumped back to quiz Burson about whether he meant business experience, which is found more abundantly locally than people with experience running municipal governments.
“You want people with business experience?” Anderson said.
“Yeah, business experience,” Burson responded.
Anderson repeatedly questioned the cost of hiring a search firm, noting that the city endured the expense of national searches for city manager and police chief in recent years, only to fill the jobs locally with in-house candidate Kazemi becoming manager and longtime city police officer Doug Baker promoted to be chief of the department.
The mayor also said the council members have a duty to go through piles of resumes culled by the city’s human resources department from candidates who met minimum standards for consideration rather than pay a consultant to do it.
“On one hand, we were talking about (how) we have the obligation to the public to look at each application ourselves,” Anderson said. “Now we’re talking about paying someone to whittle it down.”
“We can still review the applications,” Burson said. “This will help us reach out and find as many qualified applicants as possible.”
He also said that the council could retain the option of considering applicants beyond those tabbed by a consultant as the top candidates.
Council members continue to entertain the idea that Kazemi could stay on as a consultant or adviser when a new manager takes over.
Ward 6 Councilwoman Darla Bonk told colleagues of a question she had posed to the retiring manager.
“Would you consider staying on in some capacity, whether it be a consultant role or its for a 90-day after we hire the new city manager … to have access to you?” Bonk recalled asking Kazemi.
The manager responded to Bonk after further council discussion, indicating he would seek to make the the timing of the new manager’s arrival and his departure a smooth process.
“My goal is whatever the decision the city council makes, we will make the timeline work,” Kasemi said.
A similar option was on the table when new managers were hired in Estero in 2015 and in Cape Coral last year. After being picked neither successful candidate had any interest in being shadowed by his predecessor.
Kazemi told the council he would find search firms to compete for the work of guiding the city manager. A firm could be hired at a regular or special meeting by mid-February.
Streets told council members that he wanted “to make sure” the city is following federal guidelines prohibiting discrimination in the hiring process.
“We don’t want any slip-up. We don’t want anybody left out,” Street said. “That’s my concern, that everybody has an opportunity to compete.”