City Manager Search Narrowed to Three Finalists

The search for the next city manager of Lakeland is down to three candidates. City commissioners decided which finalists would go through a round of in-person interviews during a discussion today that ranged from the kind of person they’re looking for to the role that Interim City Manager Shawn Sherrouse might play in the future.

The three finalists selected today are:

  • Natasha Hampton, 49, assistant city manager for Rocky Mount, N.C.
  • Ty Kovach, 59, executive director for Lake County Forest Preserve, Libertyville, Ill.
  • Shawn Sherrouse, 49, Lakeland interim city manager

View recruitment reports on the finalists assembled by GovHR, the search firm assisting the city with the search, at the following links or at the end of this article:
Natasha Hampton | Ty Kovach | Shawn Sherrouse

The three candidates will be in Lakeland Oct. 19 and 20 for a round of meetings with:

  • City department heads during the day on Oct 19
  • “Community stakeholders” invited to a meet-and-greet at 6 p.m. Oct 19 at Lake Crago Recreation Complex, 525 Lake Crago Drive, according to a city news release. “The public can also attend this chance to meet each of the final candidates,” the news release said. Starting at 6:30, each candidate will have 30 minutes to address the gathering: five minutes to give an overview and 25 minutes to take questions.
  • City commissioners at 8 a.m. on Oct. 20 for formal interviews with each of the three candidates. The interviews, to be held in a meeting room in the Lakeland Electric Building, will not be broadcast on the city’s website or cable channels, but are open for members of the public to observe in person.

After interviewing the candidates, commissioners will move to their usual meeting room on the third floor of City Hall to discuss the candidates and decide the next city manager. That meeting is tentatively set for 12:30 p.m. Oct. 20 “or approximately 30 minutes following their last interview.” This meeting will be broadcast live online and on cable and will be part of the city’s video archives.

The interviews are not being broadcast to keep the three finalists from hearing the questions or their competitors’ answers, city officials said.

Likewise, the city’s teleconference interviews with four finalists on Wednesday were not filmed or aired online or on cable. The commissioners’ deliberations this morning, which did not involve interviews, also were not filmed or broadcast live.

Asked why today’s deliberations were not filmed, Mayor Bill Mutz said, “I want to make sure that you know there would be nothing we were trying to do not to be transparent. The responsibility to televise isn’t a requirement. The responsibility to disclose the meetings is … You can have access to everything we discuss, and we recorded it for that purpose.”

Some city officials said that today’s meeting was not televised because it was considered a continuation of Wednesday’s meeting, which was not televised because of the interviews.

Editor’s note: LkldNow did not attend this morning’s meeting in person, assuming it would be aired live, as other meetings where the City Commission deliberates are. We arrived at City Hall just after the meeting ended and obtained a recording of the meeting from City Clerk Kelly Koos, as anybody can do under Florida’s public records laws. The sound quality of the recording is inferior to the sound on the city’s video recordings, making it difficult to hear all comments.

At today’s meeting, each commissioner shared their top-three rankings from among four candidates who were interviewed Wednesday. (The fourth, who was eliminated from consideration today, was Ronda E. Perez, assistant city manager of Lancaster, Calif.)

There was no consensus on the top candidate, with each of the three finalists getting No. 1 nods from at least two of the seven commissioners:

  • Hampton was the top choice of Mutz and Commissioner Scott Franklin. (Franklin said his top choice was a tie between Hampton and Sherrouse; we’re calling it for Hampton here because he mentioned her first.)
  • Kovach was the top choice of Commissioners Stephanie Madden, Sara Roberts McCarley and Chad McLeod.
  • Sherrouse was the top choice of Commissioners Bill Read and Phillip Walker.

Digging deeper, here are the Top 3 rankings of each commissioner:

  • Franklin: Hampton and Sherrouse tied, Kovach
  • Madden: Kovach, Sherrouse, Hampton (During the meeting, Madden named Kovach her top choice but didn’t clearly outline the other rankings She provided this list to LkldNow after the meeting.)
  • McCarley: Kovach, Hampton, Sherrouse and Perez tied
  • McLeod: Kovach, Hampton, Sherrouse
  • Mutz: Hampton, Kovach, Sherrouse
  • Read: Sherrouse, Perez, Kovach
  • Walker: Sherrouse, Hampton, Kovach

Part of the discussion centered around the role Sherrouse might play in the future. The conversation was kicked off when Madden said she is looking at building a dynamic team. “We already have a great deputy city manager in Shawn who seems to be committed to the city of Lakeland and mentioned that he would want to remain in that seat.”

She noted her top choice, Kovach, brings “out-of-the-box thinking” but is a bit of a risk since his career, which spans the private and public sectors, has not included positions in top city management.

“Shawn and Emily (Colón, assistant city manager) already have a lot of city experience; they know our culture and our organization, so (Kovach) being a little bit of a risk, not having been a city manager, it made me feel more comfortable because of the security I have in Shawn and Emily.”

McCarley also noted that Sherrouse and Colón are part of a strong management team and that a candidate like Kovach would bring fresh ideas and a new vision that would allow Lakeland to “catapult to the next place.”

Mutz, who ranked Hampton first, added, “Meanwhile, the team here learns from them.”

But Franklin cautioned against assuming Sherrouse will stay as deputy city manager if he’s passed over. Sherrouse would be “a super strong candidate” for another city manager job and “who knows if he’s going to want to sit around for years and wait for an opportunity … I know he wants to stay in Polk County, but he’d be a real strong candidate somewhere else. We can’t assume we’re going to have Shawn.”

If the commission chooses somebody like Kovach with little city experience, it will be important to get “community buy-in,” Franklin said. “Even if he is the right person, if the community doesn’t embrace him and the staff doesn’t embrace him, he wouldn’t be successful.”

Madden agreed that “rapport with department heads and the community is absolutely critical” and that’s why the in-person encounters Oct. 19 and 20 will be critical in the commission’s decision.

The next city manager will succeed Tony Delgado, who retired from the city last month after five years as its top administrator and 23 years in management roles.

The city manager leads an organization with 2,300 employees and a budget of $626 million.

With the exception of Doug Thomas, who was hired as city manager following a national search in 2003 and served until 2015, Lakeland’s other city managers in recent decades have been promoted internally.

Thomas was preceded in 2000 by Roger Haar, who had been assistant under Gene Strickland. Strickland succeeded Bob Youkey in 1985 after having been his assistant for 19 years.

Recruitment reports from GovHR:

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