Wanted in Key West: a new city manager. But how far should the city search for one?

Key West will start looking for a new city manager this year.
Key West will start looking for a new city manager this year. City of Key West

The city of Key West needs to hire a new city manager by Oct. 1, when the current one, Jim Scholl, will retire.

But will city commissioners launch a statewide or national search or hire from the city’s staff?

They’re likely to decide at a special meeting set for 5 p.m. May 30 at City Hall, 1300 White St. What was once supposed to be only a budget hearing has turned into a debate over where to go looking for a new leader.

One commissioner, Billy Wardlow, says no search is needed and that the best choice is already on the payroll: Greg Veliz, assistant city manager.

mail carriers (1).jpg
Key West City Commissioners recently honored mail carriers for their annual food drive. Pictured from left to right: Commissioners Gregory Davila, Mary Lou Hoover, Jimmy Weekley, local drive organizer Bob Killen, Mayor Teri Johnston, Commissioners Clayton Lopez, Sam Kaufman and Billy Wardlow. CITY OF KEY WEST

Commissioners Greg Davila and Sam Kaufman have proposed opening the selection process to all applicants and finding someone from the outside to lead the search.

Scholl, the former Naval Air Station Key West commanding officer, earns $180,000 a year.

“It would be the most benefit to the city and residents to have a professional search done [by] a professional organization that does searches specifically for city managers,” Kaufman said. “I would prefer it be someone in Florida who was familiar with Florida laws. It would make sense ideally to have someone already in Florida.”

The city manager serves at the pleasure of the seven-member commission, which includes Mayor Teri Johnston.

The last time the city had a national search was in 2012 and it all ended in a mess two years later when the commission unanimously ousted its choice, Bob Vitas, as punishment for creating a new administrative position on his own.

Vitas, though, got a $120,000 payout. The commission persuaded his predecessor, Scholl, to come back for another tenure. Scholl extended his contract a few months to stay through the budget process, which ends by October.

“We did a national search then and it did end in disaster,” said Commissioner Clayton Lopez, who also wants Veliz to get the job.

“I think Greg would be the man,” said Lopez. “We already have somebody that’s already been doing the job, a guy who has the reputation of being the go-to guy. People that live here and already know about us, that’s so very important.”

Key West City Manager Jim Scholl will leave the job Oct. 1, 2019. City of Key West

One commissioner thinks the city needs to revisit the job description for city manager before making decisions on who gets the job.

“I’m being cast as the swing vote,” said Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover, who doesn’t believe a decision on the search process will be made next week.

“I am trying to keep an open mind about the process,” Hoover said. “But I think we have got the cart way before the horse on this. We don’t even really have a useful job description to be working from.”

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston formally proclaimed Key West and Cuba as "sister islands," during a warm reception held at the Southernmost House on May 15, 2019, as the city welcomes Cuba's ambassador José Ramón Cabañas.