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HR Dynamics Completes Search for Vero Beach City Manager

Written on June 13, 2011 at 4:42 am, by HRDyn

Background On March 2, 2011 the City of Vero Beach contracted HR Dynamics to conduct an executive search for a new City Manager. The City Manager is a chartered officer and reports to the 5 member City Council of Vero Beach. All City employees (about 500) report to the City Manager. David Johnson, President of HR Dynamics headed up the search. In early April he narrowed more than 50 candidates to 5 finalists. These five were interviewed by each of the 5 Council members using the Skype video service. In late April 4 of 5 finalists were selected by the Council to come to Vero Beach for “live” interviews in an open to the public Council meeting. The Council, by a 4 to 1 vote chose Jim O’Connor, who is currently the City Manager in Winchester, VA. Jim must give 60 days’ notice, so he will start in Vero Beach by July 25, 2011.

Lessons Learned:

  • Local is very important when recruiting a government employee Choosing a search firm that is headquartered in Vero Beach made a significant difference. With local knowledge of the Vero Beach lifestyle and current issues facing the City, HR Dynamics was able to quickly gain the professional respect when contacting candidates. Many of the City Manager candidates had been contacted by other search firms during their careers and had experience going through the executive recruiting process. Several mentioned they noticed a difference in professionalism and knowledge when contacted by the Vero Beach recruiter.

  • Reporting to 5 member Council makes City Manager a difficult job. The City Manager, like a CEO or President has a five person “Board of Directors”. The big difference with the City Manager position is the “board” can change every two years depending on elections. Also, because of the “Sunshine Law” the board/council cannot deliberate outside of a public forum. Therefore the City manager can not meet, informally with Council Members to share ideas and discuss alternatives. That must be done in the public Council meetings.
  • A City Manager’s skill set must include general management, politics and spokesperson for the community. Several members of the City Council wanted to consider candidates from the private sector; that is general managers from private industry. Private sector candidates were evaluated, but the unique requirements of the job made HR Dynamics recommend those candidates who had “been in the chair” of a City Manager as the combination of on-going communications to the public, listening to every constituent, managing so many diverse services, and knowledge of municipal utilities, did not exist with private sector candidates.
  • The Sunshine Law makes recruiting more difficult. This is true up to a point. Candidates who are currently employed are reluctant to throw their “hat in the ring” because it immediately becomes public knowledge. On the other hand, the total public exposure of candidates virtually assures complete background knowledge and exposure of any “skeletons in the closet”.
  • Every city has unique challenges but currently, Vero Beach has several. Most senior managers are recruited to initiate change; to be a “change agent”. In the near future, Vero Beach will consider selling two utilities, cutting the size of the government staff and creating a new budget to match lower tax collections. Having been in the City Manager position since 1979 in five different cities, Jim O’Connor has learned how to be a “change agent”. It is expected that his “fresh set of eyes” will enable out-of-the-box thinking and effective new policies.
  • The compensation package was carefully scrutinized. The Council Members are very conscious of saving the taxpayer money. The overall cost of the O’Connor compensation package is in line with other Florida cities with $130 million plus budgets and 500 employees. Early on Jim asked only for Vero to match his current salary in Winchester, but what was instrumental in sealing the deal was his offer to cut his salary if the City Government is downsized as a result of the potential sale/merger of utilities. In summary, HR Dynamics feels the City of Vero Beach has a truly outstanding individual in Jim O’Connor. The credit has to be given to the 5 City Council members, each one of whom spent an average of 10 hours interviewing candidates, one on one and probably 5 more hours of Council meeting time. They were involved and realized the importance of getting the best person to lead the City in this time of major change. We are all anxious for Jim’s arrival and success.

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