Clewiston assigns Johnson to find new manager

CLEWISTON — The city commissioners voted unanimously with little discussion to hire their former executive Wendell Johnson as an independent contractor to be interim city manager at their regular meeting Monday evening, Dec. 17.

All five had met individually with Mr. Johnson to talk over his terms, their expectations for the position and their plans for and hopes of attracting the right person to permanently replace former City Manager Al Perry, who resigned the week after Thanksgiving. The commission voted two weeks earlier to negotiate with him and set up some arrangement that could take effect as soon as possible, meanwhile choosing citizens to serve on an advisory panel to decide on a way forward for finding a replacement. Finance Director Shari Howell had been elevated to acting manager for the interim; however, with her numerous other responsibilities, the commissioners wanted to relieve her expeditiously of the extra workload.

Commissioner Julio Rodriguez said that in his talks with Mr. Johnson, he’d said he would like to start Jan. 7 at a full-time monthly salary of $11,000. Noting that their next meeting was that same day, Mr. Rodriguez asked fellow commissioners’ approval, and asked if a motion to set those terms was appropriate in order to let Mr. Johnson know he was the city’s choice.

Mayor Mali Gardner answered that it was, City Commissioner Melanie McGahee seconded, and City Attorney Gary Brandenburg suggested adding termination provisions in the same action, requiring 30 days’ notice by either party to end the contract. It was explained that Mr. Johnson lives many miles away in north-central Florida and thus will need to find local housing, and that knowing for sure he’d be hired would help him.

Vice Mayor Michael Atkinson asked how many hours per week he would work, because Mr. Johnson had told him he wanted to work only a 30-hour week. Community Development Director Travis Reese chipped in, “He’ll probably work 60 anyway.” Mr. Brandenburg said he suggested that if he were to work fewer hours, “then his compensation would be adjusted down in proportion to the 40-hour week,” a suggestion that he himself made.

Mr. Rodriguez said he thought they shouldn’t get sidetracked on how many hours he would work. “I guarantee you we’re going to get our money’s worth. Right now he’s planning on how he’s going to … he’s probably listening to us right now, on how he’s going to hit the ground running.”

Mayor Gardner said, “So we’ve agreed you’re going to do an independent contractor agreement at $11,000 a month, a Jan. 7 start date and with a 30-day notice of termination,” she said to the attorney. Mr. Rodriguez said “that’s my motion,” and it passed 5-0.

Next the commission discussed the hiring of a permanent manager. Previously it had decided to appoint a special committee to decide the process and perhaps interview applicants, seeking assistance from the Florida League of Cities and the statewide city/county managers association’s Senior Advisors group. But Mayor Gardner said in her conference with Mr. Johnson, he said he’d just gone through a similar process in Lake City, and she suggested the interim manager be allowed to “do the process working with our attorney, in supplying to the commission a list of potential city managers.

“I think he’s well equipped, and he’s been working with the Senior Advisors, he knows the business community, and he’s willing to work with them as well and get their input, as well as each commissioner’s input,” she said.

The mayor said she’d had many phone calls and heard interest expressed by several people in the city to assist, as well as members of the board of a Southwest Florida executive search company. “I think that the point of contact should be Mr. Johnson, and he should be helping us find the next city manager with all the resources and information that we have as a community. I don’t think we need to form a committee at this point.”

Mr. Brandenburg said they should then act to dissolve their special committee and formalize the action in a motion, which Mr. Rodriguez made and won 5-0 approval.

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