For city manager candidates, it was a marathon

Published May 2, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - For Lester B. Baird Sr., who has spent most of the past 11 years as Hendry County's administrator, Monday's tour of Brooksville was an eye-opener.

The only one of the three city manager finalists who had not been to the area before, Baird said he was pleasantly surprised by how active the city is, with annexations and planned development bubbling all around.

Other manager hopefuls Mitchell N. Bobowski and T. Jennene Norman-Vacha also went along on the tour. All told City Council members later they were impressed with what they had seen and what they had learned.

The whirlwind get-to-know-you session allowed the manager finalists, city officials and employees to learn about one another.

The marathon process began with the tour and continued through a question-and-answer session with the public and a social dinner Monday evening at the Brooksville Country Club at Majestic Oaks. Early Tuesday, the process began again with one-on-one interviews with the five City Council members.

All of the activities led up to the formal interviews by the City Council slated for Tuesday evening and expected to last into the night. The council was expected to choose the city manager and to begin contract talks. A contract could be ready for council approval as early as Monday night's meeting.

Only a handful of residents attended a public forum with the city manager hopefuls on Monday. They listened to the brief biographies of each finalist.

Norman-Vacha, the only job candidate from Brooksville, fielded questions about whether she had a friendly relationship with council members. She said she had known them from various activities over the years.

David Pugh Sr., a former city employee and the mayor's father, said Norman-Vacha's connections should not be surprising because Brooksville is a "small town."

Baird was questioned about the conditions of his departure from Hendry County earlier this year. Without going into specifics, he said that four of the commissioners there agreed it was time for him to leave.

After the session at City Hall, the finalists, City Council members and city employees shared social time and a buffet dinner.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or 352 754-6117.