Six months after deciding to hire a new city manager to replace Jim Landon, the Palm Coast City Council today began talking about how to hire a search firm—a process that will take the next five months, usually the time it takes for most local governments to find a new executive from start to finish. In essence, it will have taken the council a full year to put out a want ad for a new manager, and it may be two years before it hires a new one.
It took one meeting for the Flagler County School board last year to decide on a search method for a new superintendent as the board hired a team of state school board association consultants to advise and coordinate the search. It took the board barely four months to find and sign James Tager. It had taken the 2007 Palm Coast City Council five months, from start to finish, to find Landon.
And while today’s workshop on finding a search firm was dubbed as a chance for the council members to discuss what they want in a search firm, after similar one-on-one discussions with the administration, the discussion was led at first by City Attorney Bill Reischmann, then by Landon himself, who at one point told council members point blank that they didn’t know how to hire a manager, since they hadn’t been through the process.
“Obviously this is your decision,” City Attorney Bill Reischmann told the council members. “You’re in control of this process all the way through.”
But the council has not appeared in control from the day it told Landon, and itself, that it was seeking to replace him. Very unusually for local governments, and against the stated wishes of wishes council members, at least in the earliest stages of the discussion about replacing their top executive, Landon has not only sat at the table in every discussion regarding his successor, but has controlled the process, the calendar and, to a large extent, the discussions.
Today, he went as far as giving his approval to the way the council was approaching the issue: “I have done this a number of times, and I like what I’m hearing, I think you’re right on target,” Landon said at one point, sounding as if he were the recruiter. It’s not clear what he meant by having “done this a number of times,” as he’s never hired a city manager, and has himself been hired as a manager only twice before Palm Coast hired him 10 years ago (he was hired by an Oregon town about the size of Bunnell, then by a town of 35,000 in Texas after his years as a planner).
What steps have been taken so far in the “search” have been coordinated largely by Landon and his staff: he intends to stay on the job until August 2019, when he plans to retire. (He’s reportedly building a home in Hidden Lakes, the subdivision off Old Kings Road.) Despite its misgivings with him, the council is accommodating Landon’s schedule by also accommodating his approach on finding a new manager—and his deliberately slow pace in going through the motions of finding a search firm.
It’ll be two more weeks before the council sees a draft request for proposals (for search firms), and mid-February before the RFP is published. It’ll be April before the council short-lists a set of search firms, mid-April when it ranks those firms, and May 1 when it plans to sign with a firm. Only then will that firm begin the process all over again, soliciting input from council members and beginning the search in earnest. That next timeline has not yet been revealed. But it will coincide with the election season, when two seats on the council are up. Council member Heidi Shipley said she was not running again, creating an open seat. (She was absent today.) Council member Steven Nobile, who has been critical of the hiring process, has not formally announced that he would run again, and has on occasion been of two minds about it. He twice tried to have Landon fired and to settle on a more rapid hiring process.
Reischmann’s presentation today summed up what had been done until now in the search for a searcher. His bullet points added up to common-sense summaries of what all local governments consider when hiring, including such obvious points as collaboration between the recruiter and the council on developing “ideal qualifications,” nationwide recruitment, and so on. The presentation included a sort of signature from Landon: that while the search firm would develop a “realistic timeline” with the council on finding the replacement, Landon would be in place “no later than August 2019.”
The council contributed a few additional suggestions, its running theme being the prevention of what its members called “bookends,” that is, limitations on the broadness of the search, and the type of candidate they’ll be looking for. But absence of bookends also left the process ahead more vague than defined.