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04/10/2014 at 6:01pm

Don StilwellTown Hall Turnover

Those who watch Town Hall closely have noted some missing faces in the last few months. Since September 2013, 7 employees have left Town Hall for various reasons. That number does not include Parks and Recreation or Maintenance workers as they can see a seasonal turnover. The fact that several of them held key positions is what led us to look into the recent turnover at Town Hall and ask council members and Interim Town Manager Don Stilwell how quickly things are going to get done now and if/when the open positions will be filled.

Besides Town Receptionist Rick Sebastian, who retired on November 1st last year, the following employees have left Fort Myers Beach employment since September (from earliest to most recent): Special Projects Supervisor Jean Webb (10/8/13); Administrative Assistant to Code Enforcement Terry Wood (10/25/13); Town Manager Terry Stewart (1/15/14); Contracts Manager Derek Bargmann (2/17/14); Zoning Coordinator Leslee Dulmer (3/7/14) and Community Development Director Walter Fluegel (4/2/14). In addition, the Town has lost three maintenance workers in the last seven months - Mark McMahan, John Eltison and Tom Clift.

We looked into the job descriptions of two of these positions and discovered these are jobs that require advanced degrees and extensive experience.

The Community Development Director is responsible for long range planning, building permitting and inspection, site plan review, making recommendations to the Town Manager and Council regarding growth and land management issues. This person must also serve as the emergency planning chief during emergencies, develop policies and procedures and conduct surveys and studies - just to name a few. The position requires a Master's Degree in planning, geography, public administration or engineering plus six years of community planning experience. Certification by the American Institute of Certified Planners is also expected.

The Zoning Coordinator works for the Community Development Director and is instrumental in coordinating environmental planning, site plan reviews for special exception requests, and is required to exercise independent judgment and initiative. This person also reviews projects for comprehensive plan and zoning compliance and advises the Director on law changes affecting planning and zoning and maintains working relationships with other departments. This position also requires a Master's degree and previous supervisory experience is preferred.

In the wake of Town Manager Stewart's departure, Council quickly hired Don Stilwell to take his place and recently directed staff to make his contract of a more permanent nature. Stilwell told us that everything is running smoothly at Town Hall even with fewer people, and he is seriously considering not refilling the high-paying top jobs in favor of incentivizing staff members who have stepped up to the plate to get the work done that's needed.

"The departure of these staff members has had an impact - of course it would as we have such as small staff here at Town Hall,” Stilwell told us. "But I haven't heard any complaints about permits not going through or work being stalled because of it. We are fortunate that we have some very good people here who take their jobs quite seriously, and they understand the whole process.”

Stilwell explained that most of Town staff is cross-trained so that information flows easily back and forth and they are used to knowing how to do parts of each others' jobs.

"For instance, when Leslee left to take a higher paying position in Naples, Building Safety Services Coordinator Ken Miller and Planning Coordinator Josh Overmyer were used to working with her so they picked up where she left off,” he said. "I am so impressed with how those two are so dedicated and so involved, that what I'm thinking about doing is eliminating the Community Development Director position, elevating Miller and Overmyer, and hiring an entry level person to take some of the legwork off their hands.”

This, Stilwell, says will both save the taxpayer money and reward Miller and Overmyer with much-deserved promotions and raises.

"Every time you have vacancies, you look to see if there's a better way to do things,” he said. "I think we can get more done by flattening the organization a bit and hiring someone at the entry level to take care of the small details.”

Stilwell says he expects to make a final decision on whether or not to replace Dulmer and Fluegel by the end of next week.

"I've asked staff to come in and give their input on what they think would be a better way to do things,” he said. "This is a time of transition - new Town Manager, new Council, and since this is the 7th time I've come into a city or a county as a new manager I've been through this a lot. It all comes down to people and giving them the right tools to do the job.”

Mayor Anita Cereceda says she trusts Stilwell to make the right decision and agrees that this is a time of transition.

"There's a new council and a new direction, so it's only natural that changes will be made,” she said. "Rexann, Summer and I are very service oriented and that is the direction we want to go, so I believe folks will actually see an increase in service as the process becomes more streamlined - perhaps not immediately, but most definitely in the short and long term. But I want to make it very clear that Council is not going to be involved with the hiring and managing of Town staff as that is Stilwell's job.”

Vice-Mayor Dan Andre told us that change is a good thing.

"I have all the confidence in the world in Stilwell and in staff, and I like his idea about giving Ken and Josh more responsibility and more incentive,” he said. "Things may run a little slower on the bigger issues for a bit, but the day to day business at Town Hall is the same. For instance, just last week a resident came to me and told me she was going there to pull a permit for a church directional sign, so I asked her to call me and tell me how it went. She said she had a lovely experience and no problems at all.”

West Coast Renovations owner Sil Barone had a similar experience.

"I haven't pulled a permit through City Hall in several months until this week,” he said. "When I went in this morning, Ken (Miller) told me it was going to zoning the next day, to the county by Friday, and I'd have my permit by next week. That's a 7 to 10 day turnaround, which is excellent service.”

Councilwoman Summer Stockton says she's not aware of anyone having problems getting permits pulled.

"Everything is business as usual here,” she said.

Keri Hendry Weeg