The city manager search should continue

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Dwayne Taylor (back row, far right) was on the Daytona Beach City Commission when current City Manager James Chisholm and former Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood were selected for their respective positions after national searches.

The Daytona Beach City Commission is now at a critical crossroads in selecting the next city manager who will conduct the day-to-day operations and govern the needs of a very economically, socially and racially diverse community.

Lack of quality candidates

I have reviewed the resumes of the three finalists. I am not impressed. I believe they should not have been short-listed. The commission must find the right candidate for the job and not be pressured to select a warm body.

None of the remaining three candidates appear to have managed a city the size of Daytona Beach with its large budget and hundreds of employees.

The challenges the city faces, including homelessness, the pandemic’s devastating effect on our local unemployment and small businesses, and our crime rate, are enormous. People are still receiving food donations and depending on the rent and mortgage moratorium to stave off evictions and fore-closures. How will these candidates handle those issues?

What does economic development look like in Haines City, Putnam County (Palatka) and College Park, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta – relatively small areas these three candidates have led?

Our city should not be a training ground for candidates who have not held top positions in larger municipalities. We don’t need someone who will try to fly and build a jet aircraft at the same time.

Conducting a second search for more qualified candidates will not stop the city from moving forward. Nor will it be the beginning of Armageddon.

Some history

As a former city commissioner, I was there in 2004 when we hired now-retiring City Manager Jim Chisholm. I began my career with the city in the late 1980s and worked for several different city managers – Howard Tipton, Carey Smith and Richard Quigley – who were the interim “placeholders” between city manager appointments.

Ironically, Jim was the result of a second city manager search. The first search was initially conducted in 2003 before I was elected. It resulted in the finalist rejecting the position because he didn’t agree to the contract offer by the city’s negotiator, Mayor Bud Asher.

(I believe the candidate “played” the city to strengthen his position for a better contract where he was working at the time. Mayor Asher did nothing wrong.)

Second search

A second city manager search was initiated in 2004. After much heated debate and discussions and a 5-2 vote, Jim became the finalist.

I was one of two commissioners who cast dissenting votes when he was offered the job. The other was Charles W. Cherry, Sr. We both voted no because we believed the appointment process was rushed.

After Jim was selected, I was asked by then-Mayor Yvonne Scarlett-Golden and the city commission to negotiate his initial contract, which I did, and Jim has remained until now.

I worked very closely with him and I conducted many of his annual evaluations
for the commission as well. Jim would go on to gain my respect, support and confidence, and I applaud some of his accomplishments while I was there.

The city doors were open when Jim came. Surely they will not close as he departs to the retirement pasture. And I’m sure that he would remain on a short-term basis to give the commission the time to select the best manager it can find.

The Chitwood story

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s journey to Daytona Beach is also instructive.

He was an experienced law enforcement officer who worked for 17 years on the tough streets of Philadelphia, Penn., followed by police chief experience in Oklahoma. I was on the city commission in 2006 when he was selected after a national search.

Many locals considered him a Yankee outsider with a Northern accent. The Daytona Beach Police Department’s ingrown “good ol’ boy” system wanted to continue to control DBPD with one of their own.

But Chitwood came in with tough, big-city experience, no pre-existing relationships, a focus on community service, and began to take apart the police culture that had caused decades of tension between DBPD and Black residents. He’s done the same for the culture of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

Replace the consultant

The consultant team that conducted the current search did a lackluster job at best in the process of identifying qualified candidates to meet the needs of the city. It appeared they allowed anyone to apply and not limit the application process to only those who had significant large-municipality city management experience.

I find it intriguing that professionals like Cheryl Harrison-Lee, a former Daytona Beach deputy city manager hired while I was on the commission, was not on any list. This is irresponsible.

Harrison-Lee now heads the state of Kansas’s COVID-19 recovery team and is in charge of disbursing more than $1 billion in federal funds. She is the current vice-chair of the Kansas Board of Regents that operates all the state’s colleges and universities, and has significant city manager experience as well.

Other qualified applicants

There are more like her just in the Central Florida area of Orange County and the city of Orlando that are more qualified than the finalists being considered. And it’s hard for me to believe that experienced administrators from Miami-Dade, Fort Lauderdale/Broward, Tampa/St. Petersburg, or Jacksonville/Duval would not be interested in leading Daytona Beach.

I have studied and worked in local and state government for more than 30 years. I have earned five academic degrees, including a master’s degree in Public Administration. I understand the importance of making this crucial selection.

I have been through this process before. The commission should replace the consultant and perform an additional search.

Dwayne Taylor served as a Daytona Beach city commissioner representing Zone 5 from 2003 to 2008. He also was an elected member of the Florida State House of Representatives from 2008 to 2016. 

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