High Springs Commission split on new interim city manger

HS_CommissionL-R:  Current Interim City Manager Jenny Parham, Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas, Commissioner Eric May; foreground: Jeri Langman. The High Springs Commission meeting held Tuesday night turned into a heated debate between commissioners and the public regarding the appointment of Jeri Langman as the new Interim City Manager.

HIGH SPRINGS – With the search for a city manager dragging on much longer than expected, the new High Springs City Commission appointed local resident Jeri Langman as interim manager on Tuesday.

The move came after a lengthy and contentious debate among residents and commissioners at a special commission meeting, which was originally called to make routine budget amendments and settle a litigation matter.

In a 3-2 vote, Mayor Dean Davis and newly elected Commissioner Linda Clark Gestrin sided with new Vice Mayor Bob Barnas’ proposal to replace current Interim City Manager Jenny Parham, effective Monday, Dec. 5.  Parham will continue performing her duties as the City Clerk.  Commissioners Eric May and Sue Weller opposed the move appointing Langman.

Commissioners made the move before determining the salary, terms and nature of Langman’s employment.  Those details still have not been hammered out as the commission scheduled another special meeting on Dec. 1 at 6:30 p.m. with the intention of finalizing a memorandum of understanding.

Preliminary discussions called for Langman to be paid $4,000 a month for her services, without a contract and without benefits.

Langman didn’t publicly speak to the commission at Tuesday’s meeting until after the 3-2 vote to appoint her as the interim city manager.

Barnas and May go head-to-head

Barnas had suggested at the Nov. 22 goal-setting workshop that Langman, member of the Planning Board and a former insurance office manager, take over for Parham despite Langman’s lack of government experience.

Barnas said at Tuesday’s meeting that Parham and the staff are overwhelmed trying to handle city business. He said he has an extensive background in management and, after watching the city operate, saw the need for a temporary city manager to relieve Parham, market the city and help businesses come to High Springs.

“I firmly believe that Jenny has done the best job she can, but that’s not good enough for this city to move forward,” he said. “There have been mistakes made, and I believe it’s because of lack of help.”

Barnas explained on Nov. 22 that he would feel more comfortable with someone else temporarily filling the position because he does not agree with “Jenny’s style of not responding to the commission.”

When Commissioner Eric May asked for an example, Barnas said he did not approve of the way Parham handled a complaint about former Police Chief Jim Troiano.

In an interview Tuesday, May said it is not fair for Barnas to comment on Parham’s communication with the commission because he was a public citizen up until his official swearing in on Nov. 17. He said at the meeting that Parham has done a “tremendous” job, and there is no need to replace her, especially since she has agreed to stay on until the permanent position is filled.

“If you were to give Ms. Parham an evaluation, which you would not, because you have not done your job long enough to do so,” he said to Barnas, “you would find that she’s a very competent city manager.”

May told the commission and the public on Tuesday that he feels this issue arose for personal reasons, not for the betterment of the city. He pointed out that Langman supported both Barnas and himself in prior elections, explaining that someone so politically active is not appropriate for the position.

He also questioned the motivation behind the appointment at Tuesday’s meeting, expressing concern that the new commission has no intention of hiring a new city manager in six to eight weeks.

“I’m getting a bit fatigued of hearing, ‘We were put in for change, so we don’t have to debate or discuss issues or talk about qualifications or issues at all,’” he said. “The commission has changed, yes, but does that mean any change is good? No.”

Barnas said at the meeting that he received an “obnoxious” email that called the possible appointment cronyism. He said there were no secret meetings or personal agendas involved. He said he planned this by himself to get help for the city to do what it needs to do.

“I’m not doing this to relieve Jenny Parham of a job,” he said, “but to bring back-up to the town and get projects I want to deal with done in a proper manner.”

Davis said that with this decision the city has no intention of firing Parham. Instead, she will return to her position as city clerk and help Langman with any problems she has. He said he has spoken to Parham about the appointment and praised Parham for the work she’s done in a position she never wanted.

“We have no desire to run this city into the ground,” he said. “She [Parham] knows more about the city than anyone in this room, and she can help Ms. Langman.”

Jenny Parham has been serving as interim city manager since former city manager Jim Drumm was fired in September 2010.

She originally gave a deadline of Dec. 30 for the city to hire someone to fill the position. At that point she would return to being city clerk, a position she has held for 24 years.

The commission had narrowed the search to one candidate in September. However, they voted on Sept. 22 to not hire Judith Jankosky, assistant city manager of Arcadia, Fla., and re-advertise the city manager position.  May noted that much of the reason the prior search failed was because the city neglected to include a salary range of $50,000 to $72,500 for the position.  The end result, he said, was that the commission narrowed the field down to a handful of candidates, and most of them dropped out upon learning of the salary.

Langman handed her resume to each commissioner, except Barnas, at the Nov. 22 workshop. She said her intention was not because she wanted the city manager job; rather, she said she wanted to help High Springs.

“This was volunteering to help you do something you may need to do to take the pressure off of your city clerk, off of your city employees and off of you, to allow you the time to revisit what you want to do,” she said.

Lack of Experience Cited in Opposition to Langman

May said Tuesday that he could not support Langman’s appointment because she has no experience in crucial areas of the job.

“You’re putting somebody who has no experience in police, fire or public works in charge of police, fire and public works,” he said.

He also said he had problems with discussion of the appointment of a temporary city manager being speedily placed on Tuesday’s agenda.  May said the public had not been given appropriate notice that the position would be open.

Commissioner Sue Weller agreed with May, explaining that she could not accept the commission appointing an unqualified person to the position, especially when no other names were offered. She said it was unacceptable to reach a decision without “due diligence.”

“You wouldn’t hire somebody off the street to run your business for you who has no experience, does not have the qualifications and hasn’t even been interviewed for the position,” she said.

She suggested the city perhaps hire an office manager to help the two person City Hall staff or look into getting an organization consultant. Weller said she would have no problem with Langman filling a job like this because it would better fit her qualifications.

Davis said in an interview Wednesday that the emphasis on professional government employees is “what got us in the mess we’re in.” He said Congress and the Senate are made up of professionals, and the country is $6 trillion in debt. Langman has corporate managerial experience, he said, making her the best person to help Parham with her duties.

“She’s a classy woman,” he said, responding to concerns by some residents about Langman’s experience. “She is not somebody off the street. That was a hurtful statement.”

Langman said at the Nov. 22 meeting that her strengths are helping people, businesses and offices streamline their practices.

“My talents are something you may need,” she said. “I am a ‘mega organizer.’ That’s what I’ve done my entire life.”

Residents were as conflicted as the commissioners about the issue. Some supported the decision, citing the general election results as a sign of the city’s desire for a new direction.

Others said the undertaking was ridiculous this late in the process, adding a financial burden to the citizens, who will have to pay Langman, and a time burden to Parham, who will have to help train her. One resident suggested that since Langman says she is a concerned citizen who wants to help the city, she should volunteer her time a few days a week to do whatever Parham needs done.

Langman will serve as interim city manager for six to eight weeks while the commission works to fill the fulltime position. She is expected to submit her resignation to the Planning Board, a board to which she was recently appointed.

The city accepted applications for the permanent city manager position until Nov. 30. As of Tuesday, the city had received 22 applications, according to May and Davis. The commission has been working with Paul Sharon, a “Range Rider,” to develop applicant criteria.

The Range Riders is a group under the Florida City and County Management Association. They offer free guidance to cities in the search for city managers, using former managers as counselors.

Parham explained on Nov. 22 that Sharon will review all of the candidates using the criteria the commission has established and send his recommendations back.