by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Sanibel City Manager Judie Zimomra shared her thoughts on a range of topics in an exit-style interview conducted Sept. 13 by Councilman Mike Miller. Zimomra will retire at the end of September after 20 years of a 40-year career with the city.
Miller said, given Zimomra’s two decades of service to the city and community, he thought it was “appropriate there be a public discussion about her advise to us, the challenges before us as she perceives them and how she feels we should handle some of those challenges.”
Sanibel has received local, regional and national attention for being a well-managed city during her tenure. But Zimomra made clear the awards and recognition are not solely due to her ability as a city manager, but are a reflection of the team work by dedicated city staff and leadership at the council level throughout the years.
“We have a history of promoting from within that has been a very valuable and excellent way to build our team,” she said. “We have a number of people who have come up through the ranks and I think that has served our community well. And one reason you see that national recognition.”
She addressed the city’s need to fill an unprecedented number of staff vacancies caused by an inability to attract people and the impact of the pandemic. The city is 30 percent down in staffing, falling from 215 employees five years ago to 151 currently.
Zimomra called the staff shortage a “big issue” due to the impact on providing quality services to the community and said hiring and reorganizing quickly should be a “top priority.”
She also addressed the need for better facilities for staff, additional cross-training with higher compensation, continued upward mobility for staff, and a full-time public information officer and assistant city manager, two common positions in cities throughout the country.
Zimomra remarked Community Services Director Keith Williams has been a “steady hand at the rudder” for the past 10 years. He has played a key role in several major projects, from the Donax sewer treatment facility to the fish kill cleanup in 2018.
“I don’t think there is any better experience or recommendation than what someone has done for the community,” she said.
Additionally, Zimomra discussed the viability of main street. She said it may not be the most valuable in terms of property taxes on Sanibel, but the value is in the greater good of the community. She strongly recommended partnership opportunities and small grants of less than $100,000 to help the island’s small businesses.
“There are not very many economic leverage programs for the average small business,” she said. “It would be a disservice to the community not to see the value in main street.”
She further discussed the importance of embracing the city’s charter and understanding the Sanibel Plan and Code are not about balance – a common misrepresentation she called dangerous. Rather, they are about placing the natural environment at the pinnacle of the hierarchy. “Our top priority should be to protect the hierarchy,” she said.
Zimomra’s advice to council was not lose momentum on the many, many projects underway. But overall, don’t compromise on the Sanibel Vision or their principals and to be a back up to the staff when they need it.
The city is in the midst of a search for Zimomra’s replacement. A start date for the new city manager is scheduled to be determined in early October.