The hiring of David Harden, a first-rate professional, as Marco Island’s Interim City Manager should be welcome news for Islanders. Effective Marco government may be within reach if Harden’s efforts to stabilize Marco’s city administration and get municipal operations back on track are successful.
The selection was made possible by help from the Florida City and County Management Association in conducting the search. I’m now very pleased to report, that during the coming year, Council’s search for a permanent city manager will be enjoying the professional expertise and guidance of FCCMA’s Senior Advisor, Ken Parker, as well as that of Interim City Manager David Harden.
Marco Island needs a professional, qualified city manager because of its council-manager form of government. As the chief administrative officer of the city, the professional city manager runs the city, leads staff and advises the Council. His duties include submitting the annual budget and capital program to Council. To think that elected officials alone can run municipal operations better than a qualified and experienced professional city manager is laughable.
During the past decade there has been a revolving door in the city manager position, creating a huge managerial void. The average time between changes has been about thirteen months! Obviously, that is hardly enough time to get and keep municipal operations running smoothly, even with many of the outstanding members of the staff. With such turmoil at the top, there has also been high turnover in some staff sections. Factor in the two-year staggered election cycle, and there has been little continuity or stability.
Understandably, some members of the city staff have been fearful of the uncertainty of their jobs.
In some cases, the absence of long term leadership at the top has caused the lines to become blurred between the role of the city manager and the roles of elected officials. The City Charter clearly states that the seven member City Council has all legislative authority. The Council Chair serves for one year and presides over meetings, and shall be recognized as head of city government for ceremonial purposes and for purposes of military law. That’s it. Council does not, repeat, does NOT run municipal operations, hire and fire staff, or direct departments. That’s the city manager’s job.
Some have tried to advance the notion that Marco’s form of government is the problem, and that a mayor is needed. What this overlooks is that a city manager (sometimes under a different title such as “Executive Assistant”) is still needed to run the city. Expecting a citizen elected as mayor with limited experience or training to do it alone is naïve and foolish.
Marco’s political turmoil has been such a distraction that foundation documents like a city strategic plan, or similar method of setting priorities doesn’t exist. The City Comprehensive Plan is out of date, with the last amendment in 2009 — almost ten years ago! I find this unacceptable. Without a framework in place to govern, personal agendas can take priority instead of community interests.
Interestingly, the staff organizational climate survey conducted in 2017 revealed that most staff members did not feel Council had the community’s best interest at heart. With the professional help of Interim City Manager Harden, I’m hopeful the Council will establish a framework for effective governance. One that will be less volatile and subject to manipulation. After all, Marco Islanders deserve a professional, effective government that works within the law and respects its citizens. As a Marco resident and as a City Councilor, I insist on that philosophy.
I look forward to working with Interim City Manager Harden and my colleagues within that particular concept.