The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council agreed earlier this month to begin advertising for a new manager, although the current manager’s contract was recently extended for two years.
At the Nov. 6 meeting, Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia made a motion to begin the process of interviewing manager candidates, rather than seek another management firm contract, which is what the town has now.
When the current two-year management contract extension was approved in August, Town Manager Bill Underwood pointed out at the time that the contract had been drafted to allow a transition to a manager and town employees and phase out the contract process.
Mayor Dave Browning explained that the process would be to advertise and gather a list of potential managers and interview them. “If we were to go with a manager, you’re looking at getting a list and interviewing people,” he said.
Browning explained that in the past, the town has advertised for requests for proposals (RFPs) from management companies, where the management company is responsible for hiring a staff. The council held a special workshop on Oct. 30 to discuss the management contract.
“Just remember, we’ve already got a contract with Underwood,” Browning said. “Even though we had a workshop, we still have a contract with Underwood. We can talk about anything we want to here, but to be bringing in people for a position that isn’t there yet is a little strange.”
Councilman Dave DeMarois agreed that advertising now might be premature, but the reason that the management contract was brought up was at Vice Mayor Todd McClendon’s request.
“We had a lot of discussion at that workshop, and I’m certain that Bill has heard that discussion,” DeMarois said. “I think what [we are] trying to do is look at what our goals are.”
Browning reiterated that he was at a loss as to where the council was going, since the current contract is for two years.
“Unless we vote to terminate that, and we can, it takes four votes — or he chooses to leave himself — then there’s not really an opening for a town manager position at this point,” Browning said.
DeMarois said that one of the points of reopening the contract was to bring the town’s clerk in as an employee since Town Clerk Virginia Walton recently resigned.
“To do that, we have to open discussions on what we would like,” he said. “It’s a give and take.”
McLendon, who asked for the contract discussion originally, said his intention was to find out what managers are available, who is willing to take the job and what it would cost.
“In addition to that, I would like our finance committee to see what kind of financial impact we’re going to have by moving away from contract government to employees and make a determination how that’s going to affect us,” he said. “You never know. We may find a town manager, and Bill might say, ‘I’m out of here; you’ve got what you want.’ We can have an amicable resolution to this thing. But we may find out that nobody wants to come here, and Underwood stays his two years.”
Maniglia said that she would like a third party to put out the manager advertisement.
Browning suggested using a headhunter, similar to the process done by corporations for top professionals.
“I’m sure there are companies that do that,” he said.
In its simplest form, the solicitation could be an ad for employment. Underwood said the ad would need to include the criteria that the town is looking for in a manager.
Maniglia said that she would like for recently hired Assistant Town Manager Francine Ramaglia to be included in the manager search.
“We’ve hired an assistant manager, so now we’re in a position we don’t have enough money to hire a manager,” Maniglia said.
McLendon said he would like to see what is available, and Maniglia agreed.
“I would like to keep us moving forward,” Maniglia said.
Browning said he is not against replacing Underwood but wants a solution that sustains the town.
“I don’t want to just cut a guy off because we don’t like him, we don’t like the way he does code enforcement, we don’t like some of his employees, and leave us flat,” he said. “I’m the only one up here who has had to go through the process before… Those were with companies offering the whole shebang. We are going to be making a transition. It’s all planned for. It just can’t happen quick enough for some people.”
Browning said the type of responses that the town receives and who is available will determine how he votes on any changes.
“If I know the town can make a transition smoothly and to the benefit of the people that I represent in this town and have been committed to these past 12 years,” Browning said, explaining that the council and staff will need to put together a job description that will show what the manager must do.
Underwood said that he is a member of the International City/County Managers Association (ICMA), which has models of what to expect in a contract.
McLendon said he had received an e-mail that was copied to the other council members from a professional management recruiter, who quoted a price of $26,500 to do a search, explaining that he did not think putting an ad in a newspaper would suffice.
“This isn’t something we want to be cheap about,” he said. “If we’re going to be serious about getting a new town manager, we don’t want to take the cheap route and just get somebody off the street.”
Underwood said that an important part of the search will be supplying what the bottom and top of the pay range would be, in addition to benefits.
Maniglia said companies that she had suggested at earlier meetings to have an evaluation had quoted her $25,000.
“They also offer these services,” she said. “I would like to look into those companies as well.”
Maniglia made a motion to instruct the town staff to put something together to be able to advertise for a manager. Her motion carried 4-0 with one seat vacant due to the resignation of former Councilwoman Joyce Batcheler.