With six-indepth interviews and one rigorous search, the City Commission plans to choose the next city manager at a 5 p.m. special meeting Monday.
The City Commission Monday will be poised to make a decision that could shape the future of Plant City for years to come with the selection of a new city manager.
Last July, the city brought on executive recruitment firm Strategic Government Resources, with a team led by former Lakeland City Manager Doug Thomas, to assist with the search. The search came following the sudden departure of Mike Herr in May. Herr had been Plant City’s administrative leader since September 2014, but left for the same position in Winter Haven. Former mayor and city manager of Temple Terrace, Kim Leinbach, has been Plant City’s interim city manager since Herr’s departure, keeping the city moving while the search for a permanent leader was conducted.
Plant City currently has a number of projects in development or getting off the ground, like the Northeast masterplan, midtown redevelopment and downtown revitalization, the prospective sports village and a new effort to rehab the city’s roads. The next city manager, along with the current city commission, could help determine what Plant City looks like for decades to come.
“In the past, it’s been seen as a bedroom community of Tampa, but it’s trying to break that,” Terry Eagan of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization said. “It’s trying pretty hard to establish its own identity. Downtown is going, midtown is happening and they’re continuing to look to other projects.”
The commission has acknowledged the weight of its decision with Mayor Rick Lott repeatedly stating its “the most important decision the commission makes.”
Commissioners are planning to review each of the candidates during Monday’s meeting before coming to a decision. Commissioner Mary Mathis said all six finalists seemed more than qualified to do the job, but the commission has the difficult decision of determining which is best for Plant City.
The finalists (Jamie Croteau, management services director of Boca Raton; Jeff Brown, city manager in Panama City; Jonathan Evans, former City Manager of Riviera Beach; Bob Middaugh, Loudoun County, Virginia’s assistant county administrator; Shawn Sherrouse, current assistant city manager of Lakeland; and Plant City’s assistant city manager and former police chief, Bill McDaniel) all come with a wealth of management experience and range in leadership styles from Middaugh’s calm and reserved demeanor or Brown’s experience revitalizing Panama City’s downtown and Marina, to the sports-like head coach style of Evans tech-forward plans and McDaniel’s commitment to buck the status quo.
SGR’s search has been rigorous, seeking candidates from around the country, but narrowing to six with extensive Florida histories. Last week, candidates were in the city for a nearly weeklong immersion into Plant City, culminating in public interviews with the commission where candidates presented first-year plans and answered questions.
The interviews went off mostly without a hitch, save for Commissioner Mike Sparkman taking exception to what he called a lie and Sherrouse called a miscommunication.
Sparkman said Sherrouse attended a December 11 commission meeting and introduced himself, saying 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.
Following the last interview, Thomas took to the podium to defend the process and his companies ethics, reading text messages from Sherrouse of the conversation in question, in which Sherrouse asked if it would be OK to attend a meeting and Thomas ensuring that doing so would not be out of line, as it is a great way to get to know a community. Thomas said he advises all candidates to become as familiar with the communities in which they want to work as they possibly can.
Sparkman still wouldn’t have it and the exchange got heated.
“You don’t need to pull this crap on me because I’m not gonna take it,” Sparkman said.
Thomas tried to respond saying he wasn’t trying to pull anything.
“Well shut up then,” Sparkman told him.
The other commissioners assured Thomas they admired his work and told him he’d done a fine job and Commissioner Nate Kilton said he supported Sherrouse’s decision to attend a meeting.
After the meeting, Sparkman and Thomas shook hands and said they’d speak over the weekend in advance of the special meeting.