The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors selected former Deerfield Beach City Manager Burgess Hanson as its new executive director last week after four hours interviewing seven candidates in a short list of nine for the position.
The selection was almost unanimous, with Supervisor Tim Sayre casting the only vote for candidate Chris Shoemaker. Sayre said the only reason he did not cast his first preference for Hanson was over news reports of a falling out between Hanson and Deerfield Beach Mayor Bill Ganz, who reportedly had asked Hanson to resign in April.
Other candidates on the short list were Vince Akhimie, David Castillo, Orfelia Mayor, Steven Misshula, Joseph Sophie, Charles Tear and Larry Tibbs.
After interviewing the candidates on Wednesday, May 29, ITID President Betty Argue asked supervisors to write down the name of the one candidate they would choose as executive director, and all but Sayre wrote Hanson’s name.
Sayre said he would have made Hanson his first choice except for the recent cloud on his record.
Human Resources Attorney Lara Donlon asked supervisors if, based on the vote, they wanted to move forward with a selection.
Sayre said he would change his vote to Hanson to make the decision unanimous because Hanson would have been his second choice, but he still had concerns about Hanson’s history, which has been aired recently in Broward County media. Hanson worked for Deerfield Beach for 18 years, serving as city manager for the past 10.
“Since I was the dissenting [vote], I’m OK if we make a decision tonight based on what the other four have indicated,” Sayre said.
Argue said all the candidates interviewed seemed to be outstanding.
“If we were staffing a city, every one of them fits in somewhere, but who would I put at the top?” Argue said. “In my mind, it was Burgess because of the breadth of his experience in all areas that we have needs.”
Hanson, who lives in Loxahatchee Groves, said he is very familiar with the area. “My wife and I started to make the transition to move up here from Broward County a few years ago,” he said.
Originally from West Virginia, Hanson attended West Virginia University, where he received a degree in political science, planning to go to law school.
“I decided that I did not want to take that path,” Hanson said. “I actually pursued my master’s degree in science and management because I enjoy public administration, leadership, organizational development, operations and budgeting.”
While in graduate school, Hanson worked for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection as an assistant, where he worked on a project to consolidate all the different offices of the department into one building. After graduate school, he moved to Florida, where he worked for the City of Plantation for four years.
“I was offered the job in the City of Deerfield Beach, where I was for 18 years,” Hanson said. “While I was there, I did every aspect of what you would expect from a city of that size.”
Hanson was responsible for almost 800 employees. “I’m very familiar with working with contracts as well as in-house staff,” Hanson said.
Supervisor Joni Martin asked Hanson about his involvement with the annual audit process, and he said he would meet with auditors to go over any issues that may come up in the future, such as litigation or capital projects.
“It is an important aspect of the job because during my tenure, we were able to get an improved credit rating, which is important for borrowing capacity,” he said.
Sayre asked Hanson why he is the best person to be ITID’s executive director, and he said that the community is like no other place in South Florida.
“My wife and I are both sports enthusiasts,” Hanson said. “I used to compete in reining and western shows and things of that nature. I think that this type of community needs to be preserved… You’re watching it happen up here with Westlake and all of the development. I think it’s important that the preservation of these types of areas remain intact. It will be a challenge, and it’s something that I find very interesting. Even though I come [most recently] from a large city, as I said, I’m from a rural town in West Virginia.”
Argue asked Hanson for details about his leadership experience in his previous jobs and why he left.
Hanson said that before he was city manager, he was the director of information technology.
“When I took over that position, I really focused on improving, first the morale, then setting what the priorities and goals were, based on the needs of the city commission and the city manager,” Hanson said. “Once I was done with that, I moved out into the actual operation of IT, security, network connectivity, making sure our computers were being distributed correctly… and making sure all the employees signed off on policies and procedures, what they can and can’t do, making sure that all the employees were provided with the necessary training.”
After four years, the city commission asked Hanson to become the interim city manager.
“I stepped in for nine months, and when I did, the city actually had a $16.5 million budget deficit in the general fund alone,” Hanson said. “That’s not including enterprise funds. There was not a parks and recreation director, there was not a human resources director. There were probably six to seven high-level positions that were gone or getting ready to exit.”
Hanson said he was able to rally staff at all levels, despite an economic downturn and facing further budget deficits.
“I developed a plan with the commission, and we executed that plan,” Hanson said. “I got the employees, which included unions — at the time we did have in-house fire-rescue, so there was a fire union and then the general trade and then professional management and supervisory union as well — and we determined what the course would be.”
These changes stabilized the city’s financial situation. “We did not have to change operations. The public was still receiving what they expected, but what we did do was we diversified revenue streams from just being all millage, we started implementing some of the other tools available that the city never did,” he said. “As a result of that, they asked me to stay on as the permanent [city manager].”
In March, Hanson said, a new city commission was seated, and that he and the mayor did not see eye-to-eye on matters such as cost of living increase for Hanson, which he believed had been granted and he later ended up repaying.
“I self-reported it, and I did pay it back. However, there remains some issues with that,” Hanson said. “I was not going to have my reputation sullied by that, but at the same time, the legal reason for it was they did budget it and they did approve it.”
Hanson added that he resigned on his own. “I was not asked to resign, but the mayor and I did have a falling out,” he said.
Supervisor Jennifer Hager asked Hanson how he handles relationships with elected officials, and Hanson noted that he was city manager through five different elections in Deerfield Beach.
“There was always someone new on the city commission, and I always had a very open and very clear, concise communication with each of them individually and as a board. If I had a commissioner speak to me in confidence, it never went anywhere else,” Hanson said. “I never provided information without it going through the entire board because that’s the only way you can have fair and equitable communication between manager, or in this case executive director, and the board of supervisors.”
Supervisor Michael Johnson asked Hanson to describe his leadership and management style. Hanson said he is not a micromanager, but feels he needs to know what’s going on and ask questions and give and receive feedback.
“I think that’s one thing that a lot of managers miss, that is feedback from the employees, not just from supervisors,” Hanson said. “I also think it’s important to have an open-door policy with employees because they need to know that there’s not some executive director just sitting in an office who doesn’t care about their concerns or about their input.”
After more questions and answers, Hager made a motion to approve a conditional contract with Hanson, which carried 5-0.