Ocala Council expected to outline vision for hiring new city manager

The Ocala City Council is expected to decide Tuesday night how it plans to proceed in the search for a new city manager.

The search became necessary in December when City Manager John Zobler suddenly retired. Zobler didn’t give a reason for his sudden resignation but saddened and shocked councilmembers said he had asked for prayers for him and his family. City Council President Jay Musleh even got choked up as he talked about what Zobler has meant to the city.

Former Ocala City Manager John Zobler, shown during a recent City Council meeting, announced his sudden retirement last month.

At its Dec. 17 meeting, councilmembers unanimously elevated Deputy City Manager Sandra Wilson to the top spot on an interim basis. But during another meeting three days later, the Council was split on how to proceed with finding Zobler’s permanent replacement.

Sandra Wilson

Musleh said he would be in favor of hiring an outside search firm and suggested the one used in 2015 when Zobler was hired, Colin Baenziger & Associates, would be a good choice. But he quickly added that certain procedures would have to be followed before councilmembers could make such a decision. And he suggested interested internal candidates, including Wilson, should apply.

Mayor Kent Guinn, who has held the office since December 2011 and served on the City Council for 12 years before that, said this hire would mark his sixth time in helping to select a city manager. Like Musleh, he said he’s in favor of hiring an outside consultant to do a national search, though he would prefer to see a candidate from the Sunshine State who is familiar with Florida law hired as the next city manager.

“We got a lot of momentum going – a lot of momentum – and we don’t want to stop that or take a pause in that,” he said.

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn

Guinn said it’s crucial for councilmembers to spell out their vision for the city when talking with the recruiter. He added that internal candidates are “obviously more than welcome” to apply as well.

“This is a big job,” he said. “We’ve come a long way in a number of years here and I don’t want to stop doing what we’re doing or take a different path.”

Guinn added that’s it’s important find someone who will continue the many success the city accomplished under Zobler’s leadership, from continued development to the arts to the infrastructure that’s been upgraded and replaced.

“We just need to continue on that path and find someone that will help us do that, not come in here and change the direction of what we’re doing,” he said.

Ocala City Councilman Brent Malever

Councilman Brent Malever was the lone voice against hiring an outside search firm. He cited the internal hiring of Zobler when he was serving as the interim city manager and the successes the Council enjoyed since that time.

“John left a terrific amount of people here and I don’t think we need to go out and spend $100,000 to try to find somebody,” he said. “I think first we should conduct our interviews here, talk to them, get their resumes and then go from there.”

Malever said staff members who served under Zobler know the direction the Council seeks for the city.

“John did a wonderful job,” he said. “And it just feels right to have somebody here that knew what he wanted done.”