Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A New City Attorney

The Key West City Commission selected a new City Attorney last night in a meeting that lasted nearly three hours. The choice was among three candidates presented to the Commission by a selection committee chosen by Mayor Morgan McPherson two months ago. The committee narrowed the choice to the final three after reviewing all of the applications received.

Attorney Shawn Smith of Key West got the Commissions nod by gathering nearly half of the 42 points available in the Commission's 3-2-1 voting method. Each Commissioner gave three points to his first choice, two to second choice, and one to third choice. The final tally gave 19 points to Smith, 15 points to Patrick Maguire from Pinellas County on the west coast of Florida, and 8 to Ralf Brooks, part-time City Manager of Bradenton Beach, FL, also a Gulf coast community, smaller than Key West. Each Commissioner, except Bill Verge, ranked the candidates the same: 3 points for Smith, 2 points for Maguire, and 1 point for Brooks. Verge rated Maguire first, Brooks second and Smith third.

Commissioners, it appears, want a City Attorney who will advise them fully and correctly, and who knows them and their vision for the City, and who can move into the position with a minimum of learning time, Smith is a young man, with an impeccable reputation in the community. He has less direct government experience than either Maguire or Brooks, but he did advise the Monroe County School District for several years in a contract role. Several members of the small audience present for the meeting stood in testimonial to Smith. The boards' questions to each of the candidates were chosen to emphasize how they expect Smith to be different from the current and past City Attorneys.

The process by which the Commission evaluated candidates was well designed. The committee members they chose to evaluate candidates did their jobs well. The three finalists each had strengths in areas they and the Commissioners deemed important. Brooks, who has the paper credentials to commend him for the position, didn't interview as well as the other two. He laughed nervously during his interview a couple of times and tended to ramble a bit. Maguire did best in the interviews, speaking comfortably and expansively, giving those who listened a sense of himself both as an attorney and as a person. He has more legal experience than either of the others. Smith's answers to Commissioners questions were brief and to the point. He seemed to me to be a little bit nervous, but in the end he was the clear favorite and got the job he wanted.

Commissioner Clayton Lopez asked the candidates if they would consider hiring each of the others on a contract basis should there be a need for their expertise, and each unhesitatingly answered yes to the question.

Commissioner Verge was given the task of negotiating a contract between Smith and the City. It seemed fitting that he be the one. Verge and Smith are two people of great integrity, capable of reaching agreement on the trivialities of a contract. We are fortunate to be able to make the transition to a new attorney with a minimum of disruption in the City's ongoing legal matters.

This City Commission is working well together. They don't agree on everything, but they can disagree without being disagreeable. May it continue to be so.

Next up: A search for a City Manager.

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