City manager search: And then there were five

Photo by Norman Schimmel

The Sarasota city commissioners applied their own version of local preference on Monday afternoon, June 4. They cut the list of potential city managers to five from eight. The three who were dropped were all from out of state.

It’s the last you’ll hear of John Gabor of Michigan, Michael Hein of Arizona and Andrew Mair of New Jersey. The list started with 104, and now it’s down to the final five.

Of those five, two are employed as city managers in coastal Florida towns: One runs West Palm Beach, and the other runs Daytona Beach. The other three lost their city manager positions earlier this year in Oak Park, Ill., McKinney, Texas, and Casselberry, Fla. Of the five, four are men.

Here are the highlights of what the city’s headhunter, Colin Baenziger of Wellington, reported about the survivors. It’s worth noting that the first two on the list below were in the running for Sarasota County administrator; one was a finalist. And there’s not a “spring chicken” in the bunch.

Ed Mitchell of West Palm Beach

Mitchell is city manager in West Palm, which enjoys a strong-mayor form of government. He’s been there virtually his entire professional career. He started there as a “management intern” in 1986, before being hired as assistant city manager of nearby Palm Beach Gardens, where he worked from 1987 to 1993.

Mitchell than made the jump to assistant city manager of West Palm Beach; he became the top administrator in 1999. For 13 years, he’s stayed on top through three different strong mayors. He oversees about 1,400 employees and rides herd over a $165 million general fund budget. West Palm is a much larger city than Sarasota.

So why, after 26 years, does he want to jump across the state to Sarasota? He was a finalist for the Sarasota County job, so clearly he’s looking. During the interview with Baenziger’s associates, Emilee Anderson and Lynelle Klein, Mitchell said he “thinks it is time to move on to different challenges.”

“For example, when he was selected as a finalist in Sarasota County, he started receiving calls from other municipalities asking him to apply for their jobs,” Anderson and Klein wrote in their report. “While he appreciated their interest, he explained he was not interested in those positions. He would only leave his current position to work in a quality community like Sarasota.”

His current salary is $210,000.

During Hurricane Wilma’s strike, he went out during the passage of the eye and helped board up a bank. And one community activist told the Baenziger associates, “Mr. Mitchell survived multiple political upheavals,” including seeing two city commissioners go to jail.

James Chisholm of Daytona Beach

Chisholm is also on the job, as city manager of Daytona Beach, better known as the “Spring Break Capital of the Universe” and for its “Have-A-Harley” weekends. He’s been in public management since 1974. With the exception of five years as a city manager in Texas, he has spent all of his time is in Florida.

He has been county administrator of both St. Lucie County (1989-1992) and DeSoto County (2000-2004).

Bill Altman was a former chairman of the DeSoto City Commission who ran on the platform that he planned to fire Chisholm. “Once elected he gained an understating of Mr. Chisholm’s vision; so he told his constituents he was wrong and would not stick to his campaign promise just to prove a point,” Klein said in the headhunter report.

Note: Altman was not re-elected in 2004.

The “vision thing” came up in a 2010 newspaper article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Mayor Glen Ritchey was quoted as saying Chisholm “has proven to be a visionary.” The story was about Chisholm’s annual ratings by the city commissioners. But the news wasn’t all roses. Daytona City Commissioner Derek Henry suggested the city manager “try to develop a warmer demeanor.”

Chisholm’s current salary is $170,690. Chisholm, too, has hurricane experience; his was called Charley.

Daytona’s Mayor Ritchey doesn’t want Chisholm to leave Daytona Beach, according to Klein. And the police chief told Klein of Chisholm, “He has seen it all and makes good suggestions, hires good employees and is knowledgeable in every area of city government.”

Barbara Lipscomb of Casselberry

For the past five years, Lipscomb has been the city manager of Casselberry, a suburb of Orlando with 26,000 residents and an $18 million general fund. She lost her job in January, with one city commissioner telling the press, “We wanted to go in a new direction.”

From 2004 to 2007, she was the assistant city manager of Gainesville, with a one-year stint as the interim city manager.

Prior to Gainesville, she worked at the City of Lakeland for 18 years – from 1986 to 2004 – as assistant and then deputy city manager. Her public administration career started in 1982 in the City of Grand Rapids, Mich., where she initiated the Sister-Cities program, among other accomplishments. She is a past president of the Florida City and County Managers Association.

One of the jobs of a city administrator is putting forward a budget. And like her colleagues across Florida, Lipscomb slashed spending more than 20% after the start of the economic downturn, and she reduced staff in Casselberry. She bumped up stormwater fees from the lowest to the highest in Orange County in 2007. When she started work, Casselberry had not a dime in reserve funds; when she left in January, the city had $8 million set aside.

Her final salary at Casselberry was $144,400.

“Ms. Lipscomb has changed the image of Casselberry from that of an adult entertainment district to an art community,” City Commissioner Jon Miller told Klein. The former police chief, Jim Ruf, told Klein, “Ms. Lipscomb is a strong woman and makes the tough decisions.”

Rich Chaffin of McKinney, Texas

Chaffin is one of two out-of-state candidates who will need to shine if either really wants the Sarasota job. Chaffin served as deputy city manager of McKinney, watching its population double to 133,000 in the past 10 years. Its total annual budget is $250 million. He started in 2006 and was set to leave in February, after a new city manager “reorganizes and establishes his own management team,” according to a report.

Prior to his stint in McKinney, Chaffin was manager of the City of Roswell, Ga., from 2000 to 2006. It is a city of 85,000 located about 20 miles from downtown Atlanta. He is truly a guy who has worked his way up in the trade. He was city manager in Griffin, Ga., (population 25,000) from 1998 to 2000, and from 1993 to 1998, he was city manager of Mount Pleasant, Texas (population 15,000). Before that, he was city manager of Lampasas, Texas (population 6,800), with a $10 million budget, from 1990 to 1993.

Chaffin is a veteran of the U.S. Army, serving from 1978 to 1982. He remained in Europe to travel, then returned to the United States in 1984 to enter college. He has a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Texas at Tyler (1987), and he holds a Master of Urban Affairs from Virginia Tech, graduating in 1990.

To use a Texas term, Chaffin got bushwacked in McKinney. Ray Ricchi, who was a council member, saw it happen. “The elected officials terminated the employment of the city manager. They asked Mr. Chaffin to be the interim city manager. Then the council chose to permanently hire someone from outside the organization. The newly hired city manager brought in his own team and let Mr. Chaffin go. He managed the city very well as the interim manager. His job performance was outstanding,” Ricchi told Klein and Anderson.

His final salary at McKinney was $157,000. He’s the only candidate with a Facebook account, perhaps because he has two daughters into cheerleading and golf.

Thomas Barwin of Oak Park, Ill.

If there’s a dark horse in this race, it’s Barwin. Until last March, he was village manager of Oak Park, a tony Chicago suburb of 53,000 people with a $45 million general fund budget. To believe his eclectic resume, he just might walk on water.

He spent six years running Oak Park, following eight years of running Ferndale, an inner-ring Detroit suburb along historic Woodward Avenue (can you say “muscle car”?). The five years before that were a whirlwind. He facilitated conversion of a $1 billion Air Force base to civilian use (including pollution cleanup). He was city manager of Hazel Park, Mich., and assistant to the city manager at Troy for special projects, including economic revitalization.

He’s been to Sri Lanka and the former Soviet Union as a YMCA ambassador, and he studied at the Universities of London and Harvard. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State and a Master in Administration from Central Michigan University.

Barwin, too, got bushwhacked, but with greater subtlety. “Based on his last performance appraisal, every indication was that his performance was solid and his core performance was excellent,” wrote Baenziger researchers Heather Linares and Lynelle Klein. “Thus he was very surprised when the council informed him that it wished to go in a different direction.”

His salary was $180,000 as the village manager at Oak Park.

A county commissioner in Oakland County, Mich., first met Berwin in 1999 in Ferndale. “He took a dying city and led it through a significant transition to become a glittering spot on the map,” the commissioner told Heather Linares of the Baenziger firm. “Mr. Barwin’s strengths include having an amazing amount of vision.”

And the winner is?

There you have it: Two East Coast guys holding down a gig but looking to move; a central Florida lady with decades as No. 2 and five years as No. 1; and two out-of-work, out-of-towners looking for a job — one a workhorse and the other a racehorse.

On June 29 and 30, there will be a whirlwind of interviews, tours and a social gathering at the Robert Taylor Recreation Center for the five survivors. The social will be held between 5:30 and 7 p.m. on that Friday, June 29. The members of the citizens’ advisory council that has worked with Baenziger and his firm will get to talk to the lucky five and report back.

On July 2, the Sarasota City Commission will make a decision. Place your bets.