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Plant City Observer Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018 8 months ago

Last two candidates interviewed by City Commission

Shawn Sherrouse and Bill McDaniel presented the commission with their visions for the city Friday afternoon.
by: Daniel Figueroa IV Staff Writer

The last two of six candidates to become Plant City’s administrative leader were interviewed by the City Commission Friday afternoon.

Shawn Sherrouse, a Lakeland native and that city’s current assistant city manager, presented just before Plant City’s own assistant city manger and former police chief, Bill McDaniel.

Commissioners noted the two were high up on many of their wish lists, though neither has held the top spot in a city before. With McDaniel, a native son of Plant City serving for more than three decades, and Sherrouse being raised just over County Line Road, the two bring a deep understanding of Plant City’s values to the job.

Sherrouse served in the Marine Corps for eight years, which was evident in the efficiency and leanness of the first-year plan he presented the commission. However, Sherrouse also gives off an affable and easygoing nature that is the opposite of what one expects from a grizzled Marine veteran.

Sherrouse’s presentation was the only one to feature a month-to-month breakdown of his first year through September, the end of the fiscal year and focused largely on cohesion. He spoke of cohesion and “firming” up Plant City staff’s organizational structure so, from the bottom to the top, everyone knows they are a valuable part of the team. Sherrouse’s ideas for the city included cohesion and synergy between the small business development of Historic Downtown and Midtown with the larger industrial growth happening in areas like County Line Road. Having both in concert would help attract and retain young professionals as well as larger industry.

“One of the key components,” he said of industries looking for where to go is “what is the character of the community? Does the character of the community also include the amenities like the restaurants and retail opportunities and coffee shops and the like, where their workforce is going to want to live. And if it does, or if it will, then that will help them retain their workforce.”

Commissioners remarked they appreciated many of Sherrouse’s insights. His interview, however, hit a hiccup when Commissioner Mike Sparkman said he’d have trouble working with him for what Sherrouse said was a miscommunication and Sparkman called a lie.

Sparkman said Sherrouse attended a December 11 commission meeting and introduced himself, saying the consultant leading the manager search, Doug Thomas, told him to be at every meeting. Sparkman said he was shocked by that introduction, finding it almost unethical. Sherrouse later denied those comments, saying it was a miscommunication and he only said he had cleared attending the meeting with Thomas before doing so. Sparkman was adamant he was lied to and said he couldn’t support Sherrouse’s candidacy.

“You told me a lie. You lied to me yesterday,” Sparkman said. “I don’t know if you lied about the fact that Mr. Thomas called you or not, that might be two lies. I can’t trust somebody that’s going to lie to my face because I don’t know what they’re going to do behind my back or what they’re hiding behind my back.”

Thomas later read text messages from Sherrouse of the conversation in question, which showed Sherrouse asking if it would be OK to attend and Thomas ensuring that attending a public meeting would not be out of line, as it is a great way to get to know a community, and he advises all candidates to become as familiar with the communities in which they want to work as they possibly can.

The four other commissioners said they supported the decision and were pleased with Sherrouse’s presentation.

“I would’ve been concerned if you hadn’t come to a meeting given your close proximity to us,” Commissioner Nate Kilton said.

The last presentation commissioners saw was from current Assistant City Manager McDaniel. McDaniel started his career in Plant City as a police officer in the mid-1980s and rose to become the department’s chief. During his tenure, he weathered a major corruption investigation that led to the conviction of multiple Plant City police officers. McDaniel was suspected of involvement at the time, but was never charged.

His presentation was the only one to not break his first year down into 30, 60, 90 and 180-day and beyond periods. Instead, he used his time to outline a new vision for Plant City broken down into five major categories: Facilitating Economic Development, Fostering Community Engagement, Empowering Outstanding Customer Service, Engaging in Effective Communication with Internal and External Stakeholders, and Maximizing Organizational Effectiveness.

McDaniel was asked about any perceptions he would run Plant City as an agent of the status quo.

“Don’t judge me on what you think I am,” he said. “I am a change agent. I took a department stuck in the ‘70s, brought it to the cutting edge…I am anything but the status quo.”

McDaniel said he recognizes a number of deficiencies throughout the city’s structure, like an over-complicated phone system and convoluted permitting process. He said his mission would be to make Plant City a more efficient organization.

Prior to the 2014 hiring of former City Manager Mike Herr, McDaniel was asked if he wanted the top post. He said no. However, he said Herr and current Interim City Manager Kim Leinbach have helped push him to the point where he knows he can effectively lead the city. Leinbach has said he has leaned heavily on McDaniel’s knowledge and experience in the months since taking over.

After the presentation, Mayor Rick Lott asked McDaniel directly if he felt he was ready to take on the job. 

“Yes,” he said.

The City Commission will reconvene in City Hall at 5 p.m. Monday to hear public comment and hold a vote on who the next city manager will be.

Daniel Figueroa IV is a Staff Writer at the Plant City Times & Observer. He has been covering Plant City since 2017. Previously, he was the politics and veteran affairs reporter at the Ledger of Lakeland. He probably wants to ride motorcycles and trade books with...

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