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Gainesville City Commission Takes Last Steps Toward Selecting New City Manager

Candidate Janice Jackson listens to her first interview question. The question asked about her experience with racial equity strategy and implementation. (Brianna Edwards/WUFT News)
Candidate Janice Jackson listens to her first interview question. The question asked about her experience with racial equity strategy and implementation. (Brianna Edwards/WUFT News)

The final five candidates for city manager stood in front of Gainesville’s City Commission for the last part of the selection process Thursday.

Each candidate was interviewed one-by-one in front of the public. If a majority vote between the seven commissioners can be reached, they will announce their pick Friday.

The five finalists are:

  • Harry Black, former manager of Cincinnati
  • Lee Feldman, former manager of Fort Lauderdale
  • Anne Fritz, chief financial officer of St. Petersburg
  • Janice Jackson, former administrator of Augusta, Georgia
  • Howard Lazarus, administrator of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Once selected, the new city manager will be responsible for taking the commission’s policy decisions and turning them into concrete action for the residents of Gainesville, according to Commissioner Harvey Ward.

“This is the most important position of the city,” Commissioner David Arreola said.

At Thursday’s commission meeting, each candidate was individually asked the same 14 questions. Topics ranged from advancing racial equity to team-building and organizational culture to ethics.

Jackson, the first candidate interviewed, when asked about ethical dilemmas, told a story about a boss who she felt was out to get an employee. She said she would not stoop to her boss’ level.

“Probably cost me my employment in the long run," she said, "but that was OK because I was true to myself.”

The second candidate, Lazarus, had a similar ideology. He said people will never be able to criticize him of being corrupt.

Lazarus closed his interview by emphasizing his desire for purpose and meaning in life.

“We entered this field because we want to serve others,” he said. “We won’t be happy every day, but we should be joyful every day. We should carry that with us.”

When asked about the three biggest challenges she will face as city manager, Fritz, the third candidate interviewed, answered confidently.

The first challenge, she said, would be ensuring the “financial house” is in order, as the commission can’t move forward without having strong financial standing.

The second was the city’s infrastructure. Everybody likes to talk about infrastructure, she said, but nobody wants to pay for it.

The third was public safety: “We have to make sure the citizens feel safe in Gainesville.”

Relationship-building, both within the city government and with the community, was a large topic of conversation.

“There is no substitute for communication,” Jackson said while discussing her desire for face-to-face conversation with the commissioners. “I want to understand you almost as well as you understand yourself.”

Feldman, the fourth candidate interviewed, earned some laughs when he told commissioners he would probably talk to them more than he would talk to his wife.

He had a clear list of the three biggest challenges he would face, too: lowering poverty levels, fostering positive relationships with colleges in the area and adjusting to Gainesville’s culture.

Feldman spoke of how he wants to make a difference. He said if the commission simply wants someone to sign pieces of paper, he’s the wrong guy.

“Mark Twain once said, ‘The two most important days in your life are the day that you were born and the day you find out why,’” he said, ending his interview.

Black was the last to be interviewed. He spoke about his desire to use performance management strategy and data analytics to create a smart city.

“I’m excited that there’s a thirst here for transformation and innovation,” he said. “I’m ready for the job. I’m prepared to hit the ground running.”

The interviews were just one part of the commission’s decision-making process. Candidates also had private interviews with each commissioner and attended a community reception Wednesday.

“This has been a test of stamina,” Jackson said before her interview.

The process of choosing a new city manager began early in the year following Anthony Lyons’ resignation. Lyons had served as city manager since 2016.

Deborah Bowie has since worked as interim city manager. After nine months, the commission is starting to abuse the word “interim,” Ward said Wednesday.

Executive search firm Colin Baenziger & Associates, based in Daytona Beach Shores, was hired to assist in the process and find the best candidates, according to Arreola.

“You just want to make sure that you are leaving no stone unturned,” he said.

Gradually, the commission has narrowed its 50-plus applicants down to five finalists for the interview process.

If the commission cannot reach a majority vote on one of the remaining five, it will have to reevaluate or find new candidates.

Brianna is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.