City Council to interview internal candidates before possible nationwide search for city manager replacement

Former Ocala City Manager John Zobler

The city of Ocala will interview internal candidates before possibly going nation-wide in its search to replace former City Manager John Zobler.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Human Resources & Risk Management Director Jared Sorensen asked for guidance from the council on two main decision points: Whether or not to conduct the search internally, externally, or simultaneously, and who to choose to conduct the search.

Before council members spoke, four members of the public offered their suggestions. Each delivered passionate speeches in support of hiring interim-City Manager Sandra Wilson, highlighting Wilson’s 20+ years of experience and proven track record. As an Assistant City Manager working alongside Zobler, they all reinforced that Wilson was qualified to carry out Zobler’s vision for the city.

Mayor Kent Guinn agreed with members of the public, and recommended the council decide to pursue internal candidates first.

Sandra Wilson

Guinn suggested that if the city was in a similar position to what it faced two decades ago, when the “general fund could be carried in a pocket,” it might be worthwhile to spend the time looking elsewhere. Given the city’s success under Zobler, Guinn stressed the importance of selecting a candidate who is familiar with Ocala to make sure the city doesn’t lose any time.

“Right now, we’re doing really, really good. I don’t think we need to change anything, I don’t think we need to take a pause in what we’re doing. If we take a pause, you’re talking about 3 months to find a city manager. Probably 6 months for them to figure out what’s going on. Then we’re 9 months without a city manager,” said Guinn.

Council members all agreed that the search should be done internally first, but made sure to clarify that expediency would not come at the cost of making a rushed decision.

“We are rolling along right now. Whatever the path is, if we can make a good choice quickly, and if that is the internal route, then I would support that decision,” said council member Matthew Wardell.

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn

“One thing I don’t want to do is make a bad choice if it’s going to save us a little bit of money. I don’t want to make a bad choice if it’s going to save us $20,000,” added Wardell, referring to the possible money that might be spent to hire a firm to aid in the search, in light of the city’s nine-figure budget.

The council members all emphasized the value they placed on internal candidates, especially those that had worked closely alongside Zobler.

“The people that [Zobler has] trained and worked with, if we could have him here today, he’d say, ‘You’ve got people that worked with me and you’ve made progress.’ And that’s what is what I think we have to do, is work from the inside,” said at-large representative Brent Malever.

After agreeing to pursue the internal search, council directed staff to create a job listing that will be posted internally on Friday, January 10. Candidates will have two weeks to submit applications through Friday, January 24.