The City of Tallahassee is preparing to search for a new city manager after accepting the negotiated resignation of Rick Fernandez Wednesday. Regan McCarthy reports Fernandez has been plagued by various ethics allegations including accepting football ticket and getting a discount on the catering at his daughter’s wedding.
Commissioners faced fire from a number of community members who feel allowing Fernandez to resign isn’t the right move. Joe West spoke during the commission’s public comment period.
“This is not a negotiated settlement this is a gift at the expense of the people you chose to represent. Currently this commission has three vacancies for appointees. With a less than 20 percent approval rating I hope this commission will do what everyone thinks is the next right thing to do. Advertise these positions nationally and not allow any current employees to have any input on the standards for their replacements,” West said.
But City Attorney Lew Shelley said the city saves money by securing Fernandez’s resignation rather than firing him.
“Assuming that we had no litigation, if there had been litigation we would have been under the existing employee contract to pay his attorney fees if he did prevail, but that aside, the difference is basically about $50,000,” Shelley said.
Fernandez’s resignation comes just as an attorney hired by the city was preparing to start interviews and fact finding surrounding the claims made against Fernandez.
Commissioners are now moving forward with plans to start a search for a new city manager. Mayor Andrew Gillum said he’d like it to be a robust, nation-wide search.
“I think in order for us to get the wide array and diversity of candidates that we want to see in a city manager that we don’t want to send the signal that this is an inside job. I think on one of the things on the city attorney thing, if I could just conflate the two is that most people when they’re looking, applying for a job of this significance, the first thing they ask is is there a strong internal candidate and if there is a strong internal candidate there’s a judgment around whether folks would want to make application and pursue that,” Gillum said.
Gillum said that’s why he encourages Reese Goad, who is currently serving in the position, to apply for the job, but is recommending the city appoint former city manager Anita Favors Thompson to serve as interim manager during the search—though Gillum says he hasn’t actually approached Favors Thompson about the prospect.
“She may be wanting to kill me for throwing her name out there at this point so it certainly is appropriate to ascertain her level of interest. But assuming the interest is there, she’d have my support to do that,” Gillum said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Nancy Miller said former manager Dan Kleman has already reached out to her and indicated he’d be willing to step in on an interim basis. During their Wednesday meeting commissioners opted to table the issue until their upcoming retreat. Goad will continue serving as interim manager in the meantime. Commissioners also approved a settlement agreement with the Tallahassee Democrat. The newspaper sued the city, saying it violated public records laws, after it failed to provide text messages from the city manager. Shelley said the city has slipped in its compliance with the state’s public records law.
“I think in large part what has happened over the past several years is that some technology has developed that the public records laws and the means up keeping up with have not moved forward together. But be that as it may we have to admit and I have freely admitted that in regards to the public records law and with respect to text messaging, we have not been in compliance. And there’s no reason we should sugar coat that,” Shelley said.
Shelley and commissioners said they appreciate the steps taken by the Democrat to help push the city to fulfill the law and support the free press.