City manager semi-finalists list may be ready by May 29

The consultant hired by the Sarasota City Commission to help it find a new city manager says he hopes to have a list of semi-finalists ready by May 29 for the commission to review.

Colin Baenziger, who heads up his own search firm in Wellington, also said he was not surprised that 105 people applied for the job.

“I think there are more people who consider themselves qualified” to be city managers compared to county managers, he told The Sarasota News Leader April 25.

Last fall, the Sarasota County Commission received 49 applications for the position of county administrator.

Baenziger also explained that while he had turned over a list of 100 names to the city’s human resources director, Kurt Hoverter, after the April 20 closing date for applications, he had discovered four more applications that had gone to the wrong email address.

Asked about the diversity of the applicants — including the division chief for U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, a former flight attendant and a former residence coordinator at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, N.C. — Baenziger replied that that also was not a surprise, given the number of people in the country who are looking for jobs.

“Obviously,” he said, “there’re some people on the list that are not remotely qualified” to be a city manager, “and there are some people who are well qualified.”

Baenziger said he usually pares down a list of applicants to eight semi-finalists, though that isn’t always the number he reaches. Generally, he added, he’ll narrow his list down to nine or 10 before making phone calls and judgment calls to end up with eight.

“What I seem to find,” he said, “(is) beyond (eight), the candidates tend to be very similar. … They’re not quite as strong.”

Mayor Suzanne Atwell. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Mayor Suzanne Atwell told The News Leader April 25 that she had had “a little bit of a chance to peruse (the list).”

She pointed out that she and her fellow commissioners had hoped to see a diverse group of people apply for the position from which Robert Bartolotta resigned in mid-January, following allegations that he had violated city policies and the law in accessing staff email accounts.

What she was going to be looking for in the new manager, along with expertise in such municipal management matters as developing budgets, she said, would be “soft skills.”

She characterized those as the ability to collaborate well with others.

“A manager is someone who is out and about in the City Hall,” talking to other employees, she added.

Given her expertise in psychotherapy, Atwell said, she also planned to ask the finalists, “What keeps you up at night, and how do you handle that?”

The answers to that question, she said, would provide her good insights into how a person would work as city manager.

With the City Commission tentatively scheduled to interview the finalists in mid-June, Atwell said she was hopeful the new city manager would be hired by the end of that month.