Top six candidates chosen in city manager search

Local News

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — Monday afternoon was a busy one for Panama City Beach officials.

The council met to handle a few items of business including choosing the top candidates for a new city manager.

The city got about 50 applicants during the process and have narrowed that list down to six.

Talking with council members, they believe their next city manager will be top-notch.

“We have some folks from larger areas that are used to dealing with infrastructure issues, that are used to dealing with communities that are growing so I’m pretty proud and excited to have some new folks come in and look at us,” sais councilman Geoff McConnell.

McConnell says one challenge the new hire will face is getting the city’s infrastructure up to standard.

“We’re working hard on it right now going forward but he’s going to have to shepherd that for the next 10 years. He’s also going to have to get our processes and procedures up to the next level. We’ve grown so much a city, both in our staff and in our residents and so we’re going to have to have good documentation and processes for that,” McConnell said.

Councilman Paul Casto says he believes the manager will have multiple challenges to face.

“Growth is one of the biggest challenges that the beach has got and along with that, transportation is our number one issue that we have right now,” Casto said.

The final six men will pay a visit to the city next Thursday and Friday. The councilmen say they’re anxious to meet the candidates face to face.

“What you see on paper is just a starting point. Once you get to see them and talk to them and see what their experience level is and how they interact with people, that’s probably the most critical thing. Making sure they have good leadership skills and you can sense that in a person as they interact with everybody,” McConnell said.

Even though Mayor Mike Thomas will be finishing his time with the city in April, he hopes the next city manager is a go-getter.

“I want somebody that wants to come in and accomplish something and Panama City Beach is a great place to live, Bay County is wonderful and I want that person to want to make it better. I want him to care about his family, I want him to care about this area and if you care about it, you’ll push,” Thomas said.

The top candidates are Roy Coley, Scott Lambers, Anthony ‘Tony’ O’Rourke, Mark Rooney, Leonard ‘Len’ Sossamon, and Paul Van Haute.

Learn more about them below.

Roy W. Coley: Mr. Coley has been the Public Works Director for Miami Beach, FL (population 92,307) since 201 5. Prior to this employment, he was the Operations Manager for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (serving a population of approximately 70,000) for ten years and the Town Superintendent for Falkville, AL (population 1,192) for nine years. Mr. Coley’s leadership style can best be described as participative. Every team member and stakeholder are encouraged to participate and provide input. The consensus is always the goal but when consensus is not possible, he will make the decision. The biggest success of his career was leading the recovery effort for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority after Hurricane Wilma. After experiencing minor impacts from Hurricanes Dennis, Emily, Katrina, and Rita; Hurricane Wilma dealt a devastating blow. The water treatment plant lost power, the backup power generators failed, the water distribution system was leaking in more places than could be quickly repaired, buildings were flooded with saltwater, and many of the agency’s vehicles were lost. One of the senior Board of Directors members asked Mr. Coley what he thought everyone should be doing. Mr. Coley shared his thoughts and then was put in charge of the entire recovery effort of the 120 square mile area (which incidentally is also about 120 miles long). He organized teams and systematically repaired the utility systems and remodeled the offices. The experience taught him what was important in hurricane preparedness and recovery that will transfer to any coastal community. Mr. Coley has a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from St. Thomas University and a master’s degree in business administration from Saint Leo University.

Scott Lambers: Mr. Lambers has been the City Administrator for Leawood, KS (population 34,659) since 2001. Previously he was the City Manager for Ottawa, KS (population 12,074) for eight years and the City Administrator for Chowchilla, CA (population 9,894) for four years. His management style is participative, but with a clear understanding that for issues being addressed at the staff level, his role is to make the final decision. Upon reaching a decision, he carefully explains his reasoning so the staff can better understand his perspective. That helps guide their management of future issues and projects while providing him with feedback, should they still have concerns. He gives the staff a great deal of leeway in the operation of their respective departments but expects them to consult with him as soon as a significant issue arises. One of his more significant achievements occurred in Chowchilla where he negotiated the annexation of 1,100 acres for a golf course/residential community. The process took nearly two years and it almost doubled the size of the City. It was extremely challenging because it had to be approved by an outside public entity called LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) that heavily favored the County. It took a great deal of effort and good faith negotiations on both sides to make this annexation a reality. The annexation has contributed significantly to the prosperity of the City. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Kansas, and a master’s degree in psychology from Texas A&M University.

Anthony O’Rourke: Mr. O’Rourke was most recently the City Administrator for Canon City, CO (population 16,539) for three years. Prior to that employment, he was the City Manager for Yakirna, WA (population 93,476) for four years, the City Manager for South Lake Tahoe, CA (population 21,307) for two years. He also served as the Assistant City Manager for Tallahassee, FL (population 134,366) for one year and he worked for Coral Springs, FL (population 99,914) for six years, with three of them as the City Manager. Mr. O’Rourke’s management style is proactive, collaborative, strategic, customer-focused and results-oriented. Some of his achievements are leading the cities of Coral Springs, South Lake Tahoe, and Yakima through the transformation of traditional government bureaucracies to ones that work better and faster while costing less. He does so by creating a shared vision, a strategic plan, and a commitment to an entrepreneurial business model. As a result of these efforts, Coral Springs was awarded the State of Florida Sterling Award for creating a quality-driven, high-performance organization. [Note: The Sterling Award is based on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria, and some years later, the City also won the Baldrige Award]. In 2015, the National Civic League awarded the City of Yakima the All-America City Award for creating a community partnership to address at-risk minority youth challenges — in particular, those youth who might be susceptible to gang lifestyles. Mr. O’Rourke has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Cornell University.

Mark Rooney: Mr. Rooney has been the Town Manager for Westerly, RI (population 22,651) since 2018. Prior to this employment, he was the Village Manager for Carpentersville, IL (population 38,291) for eight years. Before that, he was the Chief of Staff for North Chicago, IL (population 32,587), for one year and he worked for the Village of Wheeling, IL (population 35,912) for six years, with the last three as Village Manager. He believes that he has the responsibility to create and foster an organizational culture and environment in which trust is valued while being a role model for integrity and honesty in all professional interactions and encounters. The greatest challenges facing Carpentersville in 2010 were a $IM structural deficit, failing infrastructure (roads and water/wastewater facilities) and the need to address economic development. One of Mr. Rooney’s successes occurred in the Village of Carpentersville where he created the slogan of “Get to YES” as the staff’s over-arching vision and guidance. This vision transformed a bureaucratic mindset to one of an engaged problem solver. Employee morale skyrocketed as well as the satisfaction of citizens and stakeholders as measured by surveys and feedback from the community. As a result, Page 3 of4 Memo to Panama City Beach, November 25, 2019, the Village had a competitive edge in attracting local developers, businesses interested in relocating, and businesses already in the village who needed space to expand operations. Mr. Rooney has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Nebraska. He has done coursework in the master’s degree program at Northern Illinois University but did not complete the degree. He is an ICMA Credentialed Manager.

Leonard Sossamon: Mr. Sossarnon most recently served as the County Administrator for Hernando County, FL (population 186,553) for seven years. Previously, he was the County Administrator for Ncwbeny County, SC (population 37,808) for two years, and he worked for the City of Concord, NC (population 48,050) for eighteen years, serving as the City Manager for the last eleven years. Mr. Sossarnon’s management style is marked by adaptability and resiliency as well as leading by example. A good manager will observe, evaluate and adopt strategies with staff input to move the organization forward. No one person has all the answers, so collaboration is a key to success. Mr. Sossamon considers his biggest achievement to be the development of the Concord Regional Airport. The City and Cabarrus County had discussed building an airport since the 1 940s. The North Carolina DOT projected that it would take ten years to build. Mr. Sossamon put together a great team, used some of the City’s very healthy reserves, and built the airport in thirty-three months. This airport’s annual contribution to the North Carolina economy is now approaching $1 billion dollars. Mr. Sossarnon has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in urban geography from the University of North Carolina.

Paul M. Van Haute: Mr. Van Haute has been the County Manager for Putnam County, GA (population 99,323) since 2010. Prior to this employment, he was the Assistant to the County Manager in Spalding County, GA (population 64,066) for four years and he was the Mayor and Superintendent for Holly Springs, GA (population 5,308) for seven years. Mr. Van Haute utilizes a servant-leader/family style of leadership that brings out the best in everyone. While he has many awards over a distinguished career, the successes he is most proud of pertaining to staff development. He mentors employees to work and develop their abilities. He loves watching his staff succeed and advance within the organization. Mr. Van Haute has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Villanova University and a master’s degree in public administration from Kennesaw State University.

Soon after, Van Haute pulled his name out of the running, leaving the council with five top candidates.

On Friday, Mark Rooney also pulled his name out of the pot.

Citizens will have the chance to meet these candidates at a regular city council meeting on Thursday, December 12 at 6:00 p.m.

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