Baenziger Unanimously Chosen to Search for New City Manager

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes

Colin Baenziger & Associates was selected by a unanimous Sanibel City Council vote Tuesday, June 15 to be the search firm for a new city manager. Current City Manager Judie Zimomra is retiring in September after two decades of serving the city.

Baenziger was among two firms interviewed Tuesday in a two-hour special council meeting. A third firm, Slavin Management Consultants, withdrew due to workload constraints.

Baenziger has 23 years experience recruiting city managers or administrators and was chosen by Island Water Association in August 2018 to find its next general manager.

The 33-page proposal plus an appendix clearly outlined the firm’s qualifications and methodology. The comprehensive proposal defined a five-phase work plan with individual task descriptions and a projected schedule of dates within each phase.

“We offer a problem-free search,” Colin Baenziger told council members. He said his firm has a tremendous ability to find candidates through several avenues, including an email list of more than 14,000 professionals. He added that he maintains a strong relationship with his client and the candidates throughout the process.

Dona Higginbotham represented the second firm, The Mercer Group Florida, which was involved in the recent search for the Fort Myers city manager and solely focuses on Florida. Mercer Group Florida has been in operation since June 2010. The firm’s 24-page proposal outlined a seven-step process and a projected timeline of 12 weeks.

“I’m here for you and with you every step of the way,” said Higginbotham.

Higginbotham said once council tells her what they want in a candidate, that is the type of person she will find. “I personally read and handle everything,” she said. Higginbotham added that her firm does not use data bases because most qualified candidates are off the market within 30 to 60 days.

Baenziger said about half of the searches handled by his firm include internal candidates. They can have a shorter learning curve, but lack the experience an external candidate will bring. Plus, an external candidate can bring a “fresh set of eyes,” Baenziger explained.

“It can be tricky when it comes to internal candidates because the biggest risk is they have not handled the breadth of responsibility of the job,” he said.

Higgenbotham said council sets the criteria, which is applied to all candidates equally. “If (internal candidates) meet the criteria, I will interview them,” she said.

Both firms discussed options for final candidates and their spouses to meet the public, from a reception to a citizen review committee. And both firms offered similar guarantees for their services.

After hearing from Baenziger and Higginbotham, council members agreed they were great choices. In the end, council wanted a firm that would give them guidance instead of them providing guidance to the firm. And they felt Baenziger would offer that guidance.

“I got the sense Colin would help us and I prefer the help in thinking it though,” said Councilman John Henshaw.

Councilman Mike Miller acknowledged Mercer Group had a lot going for it – the guarantee was a little better and they were cheaper at a cost of $17,750 plus expenses not to exceed $2,250 versus Baenziger’s fixed price of $26,500.

Miller said he was also impressed with Mercer’s commitment to Florida, but he was “more impressed” with Baenziger’s vetting and recruitment process.

Mayor Holly Smith and Vice Mayor Richard Johnson initially leaned towards Mercer Group, but Smith said she understood her fellow council member’s reservations.

The next step is for Smith and City Attorney John Agnew to negotiate the contract with Baenziger then begin the recruitment profile process.

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