The search for the next city manager of Fort Myers enters what could be its final phase Friday when city council members hold a special meeting to cast votes to chose from among four finalists for the manager’s post.
As decision day neared, another lapse in transparency during the process occurred when a citizens advisory committee’s interviews of candidates were held at Fort Myers City Hall, which was inaccessible to the public.
A main entrance to City Hall was locked as was the direct entrance to the council chamber from the street. The meeting was available to be viewed through the Zoom computer application.
Previously the city delayed releasing candidate information that was requested through its “transparency portal.” That request sought resumes of candidates and a list of 10 semi-finalists that had been referenced during a public meeting.
County Attorney Grant Alley provided the full list of more than 100 applicants and the resumes of the candidates after the information was not released.
The council is due to meet Friday, April 30, at 8:30 a.m. to pick a successor to Saeed Kazemi, whose retirement is effective at the end of the workday Friday.
The News-Press obtained entrance to the building by banging on the door as one of the applicants walked across the first floor lobby to enter the council chamber from a waiting room.
The locked City Hall appeared to be an error. Unlike other meetings held at night or during the day, there was no police detail for the citizens committee meeting.
At council meetings city police search bags brought into the council chamber and make a wand scan of visitors to ensure no weapons are being taken inside.
City Fire Chief Tracey McMillion has routinely attended council meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began two months after his appointment as chief of the department. He works inside the chamber enforcing social distancing protocols.
McMillion said after the meeting that he was in the chamber for most of the night and was not aware that the door was locked.
In a text message, Mayor Kevin Anderson said, “I don’t think it was intentional; I’ll let staff know it was a problem.”
While the purpose of the rare Friday meeting is to select a new manager, members of the council can reject all candidates. If no candidate receives enough votes the council can appoint an interim manager to serve until the job is filled.
Council member Liston Bochette said he has been advised by the county attorney’s office that there are state laws that would allow the city council, which is considered a legislative body, to perform some executive functions in operating city government.
The four finalists for the position were interviewed by a citizens committee. The four finalists were winnowed from more than 100 applications. Some of the applications were from individuals with extensive experience in local government while others reflected careers far removed from government.
A citizens advisory committee spent more than three hours conducting separate interviews with the finalists Wednesday night. The committee did not make a recommendation.
In addition to Bochette, council members Darla Bonk, Fred Burson and Teresa Watkins-Brown were present for portions of the interviews. The council members sat in seats scattered throughout the council chamber.
City council members were scheduled for one-on-one interviews with each of the candidates Thursday. Those meetings were not open to the public because only one council member participated in each interview.
These are the candidates:
Current position: City manager, Camden County, Georgia
Education: Bellevue University, master’s degree in public administration, bachelor of science degree in business administration
About the candidate: Howard previously served as director of administrative services for Seminole County, held several positions in Polk County and began his career in government with positions in Desoto County and the city of Punta Gorda.
Most recent position: Public works director, Broward County
Education: Harvard University, Master in public administration; Princeton University, bachelor of science degree in engineering
About the candidate: Hutka began his career in finance and is a registered engineer in Florida. He has held budgeting, engineering and construction positions in Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio and worked to restore the downtown district as city manager of Port Huron, Mich.
Most recent position: County manager, Guilford, N.C.
Education: Master of arts and bachelor of science degrees in political science,
Appalachian State University
About the candidate: Lawing consolidated diffuse departments into a single human services agency in Guilford. He started as a public management intern in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and later was administrator of cities ranging from 3,600 to 125,000 residents.
Most recent position: City manager. Deltona
Education: Brown University, bachelor of arts degree in organizational behavior;
Suffolk Law School, Juris Doctorate
About the candidate: Shang was previously deputy manager of El Paso, Texas, and previously held management positions in Boston with the regional transit, airport and water resources agencies. She was director of engineering for the Tampa transit authority.