Reset the hard way

Commissioners keep saying we need to do a “reset” at City Hall.

We can do an easy reset or a hard reset.

The hard reset:

Do not hire a new city manager to replace Lee Feldman.

At least, not for a year or so.

This for three reasons.

First, Gainesville has now chewed up and spit out two city managers in succession. Word gets around.

Experienced city administrators are going to shy away from taking a job in a city with a demonstrably toxic political culture.

Second, by this time next year, four of the seven city commissioners will be ending their terms (and a fifth will soon be selected in a special election). It would be unfair for the current majority to bequeath a new city manager to the next majority.

And, again, quality candidates are unlikely to apply now knowing that, soon after being hired, they may not turn out to be a good “fit” with commissioners who haven’t even been elected yet.

Third. Commissioners keep talking about how Gainesville’s “flawed” charter officer system contributes to the discord inside city governance. Why not give voters next year the opportunity to fix those organizational flaws?

So what to do in the meantime?

First, seek out and hire an interim manager. This should be an “old hand,” someone with experience in the business of municipal administration but who has no expectation or intention of staying more than a year.

A professional troubleshooter if you will.

As it happens, the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) keeps a list of seasoned managers, most of them retired, who don’t mind taking on exactly that kind of short term challenge.

And the more experience the better, because whoever does accept the position is going to have a tough job ahead.

Oh, and one more thing. If the commission is serious about doing a “reset,” it needs to give the interim a very specific mandate.

Upon taking the job, the interim should be empowered to require every senior city manager to submit his or her resignation. Requiring across the board resignations up front absolves the temp manager from drawing discrimination complaints on the grounds of race, gender or other biases.

Those resignations ought to go into a desk drawer somewhere.

This gives the temp a year to evaluate staff performances, seek out the source of internal friction and find out what, or who, is putting stress on organizational fault lines.

Toward year’s end, the interim would then decide which resignations to accept and which to decline.

All this before the new commission majority begins the process of recruiting and hiring a new city manager.

Thus making it easier for a new manager, upon coming aboard, to select his or her own senior management team without immediately being inundated with the flurry of equal opportunity complaints.

That’s how the commission can do a hard reset.

Now here’s how commissioners can do an easy reset.

Give the city manager’s job to a senior city employee who is well liked by staffers and move on.

Doing so would save the time and money needed to run a national search that will almost certainly turn up few quality candidates.

And it might avoid the embarrassment of having three failed city managers in a row.

Plus, it would clear up, once and for all, any confusion about who is really in charge of Gainesville government.

Certainly not the City Commission, but rather the Deep State inside City Hall.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at rondarts2008@gmail.com.

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