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Vero Council may hire consultant and hold off on new City Manager

(Week of January 27, 2011)

The Vero Beach City Council is considering whether it might be better to hire a consultant to help them navigate the next year rather than hire a full-time City Manager.

The idea was proposed by Councilwoman Tracy Carroll last week. Carroll suggested the city hire a consultant with utility experience who has access to expert legal and financial advice to carry out the city’s policies. Councilman Craig Fletcher agreed  in concept with the idea and no member of the City Council came out vocally against it.

Since City Manager Jim Gabbard retired in October, members of the City Council don’t seem sure what to look for in a replacement because if Vero moves away from running its own electric and water utilities, the activities left to be managed could look very different as well as considerably smaller.

The alternative would be for the City Council to proceed with the old Council’s plan to pay a search firm $21,000 to find a City Manager with utility experience who is capable of managing 457 employees.

But if the new City Council members fulfill their campaign promises, a new City Manager won’t need utility experience and will only have about 250 employees in his or her charge. That job would presumably also carry a lower price tag than the current job description.

For the moment, Monte Falls is widely viewed as doing an adequate job keeping the city running as Interim City Manager.  The problem is he does not have the expertise to guide the council through a potential sale of the electric utility to Florida Power & Light or collaboration with Indian River County on water and sewer consolidation.

If the City Council runs with Carroll’s idea, getting a consultant on board to help navigate the water and sewer merger and the sale of the electric utility would let them leave Falls in place on an  interim basis and free the Council from making a quick decision on a new city manager.

Then after the dust settles, a City Manager can be hired who fits the more limited scope of city operations consisting mostly of public works and recreation. At that time, Falls could possibly be permanently promoted into the job.

The Council seems to be keenly aware of two things: any consultant should report directly to the Council, not to city staff;  and Florida -- not Boston – is the place to seek this expertise.