The Sarasota City commissioners pulled a political U-turn Tuesday afternoon, July 10. They decided they will pick a new city manager after all from among the four finalists presented to them by a headhunting firm.
A week earlier, on July 2, they decided not to decide, failing to pick any candidate and saying they wanted to restart the entire months-long process.
The non-decision stirred up significant reaction, very little of it positive. Then The Saraota News Leader broke the story on Friday, July 6, that Interim City Manager Terry Lewis would not stick around for the next round of headhunting. He said he would bow out on Aug. 3.
Sarasota Mayor Suzanne Atwell used a special meeting called for July 10 to ostensibly talk about Lewis’ replacement. But the discussion quickly turned to reconsideration of the four finalists from a total of 105 applicants who wanted to be the city’s next manager. Commissioners were not sparing in the evaluation of their prior non-decision.
“That we didn’t pick one of them says more about us than it does about them,” said Commissioner Terry Turner. “If we don’t change our approach, we’re unlikely to find a candidate that we can agree on. The turmoil it’s causing and the impact on morale is unacceptable.”
“Had we come to this place of deliberation previously, we would not have to suffer what has come from the press and the community,” said Vice Mayor Willie Shaw. “We would be better to walk away with a true candidate after true deliberation.”
During the July 2 meeting, the City Commission spent less than 10 minutes on the issue; the members did not discuss the differences among their selections, and by 4-1 vote (Shaw in the minority), they decided to go back to the drawing board.
By July 2, one of the “final four” had withdrawn, ostensibly for family reasons. But the action left the impression that one of the candidates – after interviews with commissioners and community residents – had decided Sarasota wasn’t the place for him.
Still in the race are the current city managers of Daytona Beach (James Chisholm) and West Palm Beach (Ed Mitchell), along with the prior city manager of Oak Park, Ill. (Tom Barwin).
The re-decision is scheduled under “old business” on the Monday, July 16, City Commission meeting agenda. What to do about an “interim city manager” will be discussed after the decision on a finalist.