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Islamorada Community alliance

Advocacy For Residents, Education and Preservation


Village Manager history, search process and timeline

In August 2020, we lost our ninth manager since 1999. Seth Lawless who came to Islamorada from North Carolina left due to health issues.  

So, once again, Islamorada was seeking a new village manager -- the 10th in its 22-year history. According to Acting Village Manager Maria Bassett, all former managers except one were asked to leave, including Lawless. The exception was Bernie LaPira, who retired.

May 19, 2021 Finalist Selection Meeting

The Council had a special call meeting to narrow the choices from 12 who were selected by Colin Baenziger to five that are to be invited to Islamorada for tours and interviews. Click here to read details.

April 16, 2021 Update

The consultant, Colin Baenziger of Colin Baenziger Associates, the recruiter the Village is using, provided a April 14, 2021 report to outline the current results of the search for a new Village Manager. A total of 82 candidates applied by the April 9 deadline.

Click here to see the April 14 report on status of candidate recruitment.

Feb. 25, 2021

Islamorada is seeking a new village manager. It’ll be the 10th in its 22-year history. Acting Village Manager and Finance Director Maria Bassett of Key Largo remains in one of the two council-appointed staff positions until a new village manager can be hired, likely in July, by the proposed schedule.

Click here to see the selection process timeline.

The other position council appoints is the village attorney.

Bassett was appointed acting manager by the former council in August 2020, the second time she has stepped up and was selected to serve as acting manager.

Former Manager Seth Lawless officially left in August after taking a couple months of sick leave with pay. While his departure was characterized as a resignation, he never proffered a resignation letter but agreed to signed an amendment to his original agreement, ending his employment immediately. By agreeing to sign the amendment, he was provided with severance pay of 10 weeks salary and retirement benefits plus six months of insurance. Under the original contract, he would receive severance pay only if he was terminated without cause. In the amendment, he agreed to not make any public statements disparaging the village. Four of the five members of council who hired Lawless were on the council in August 2020 when they voted to terminate his employment less than four years later.  

Lawless began employment with the village in October 2016, after a decade of managing Knightdale, N.C., a suburb east of Raleigh which had a population of about 10,000. While Lawless served the village, he lived a half-mile from village hall in an oceanfront condominium building on the Old Highway on Plantation Key.

On and off through the years, there has been argument over whether the manager should have to be, by contract, a village resident. Having a vested interest in our ad valorem tax rate as well as traffic issues on U.S. 1 have been among the reasons cited for mandatory village living.  

On Feb. 24 in a public virtual meeting held at 2 p.m. with just seven members of the public in attendance online, the council met with Colin Baenziger of Colin Baenziger Associates, a Florida-based municipal recruiting firm. He is being paid $26,500 to lead the village manager search. More on the meeting in a moment…

Click here to see the village manager history and salary list.

Baenziger served as Islamorada’s very first appointed manager in 1998 upon incorporation, saying he worked two days a week as manager. After a search, the first-ever council selected James Chisholm as manager in August 1998. Chisholm’s salary was $75,000 plus benefits, and he lasted 10 months. In 2004, Chisholm found his managerial fit in Daytona Beach. He recently announced he was retiring from that job at age 75 this March after 16 years as city manager there.  

Since Chisholm, Islamorada has employed eight different managers in 22 years. Bassett currently earns double what Chisholm made: $154,622 plus retirement contributions of 27.29% of salary through the Florida Retirement System (with the annual percentage determined by the state for the senior management pay class); and 10% of salary to a 457 Plan, with the percentage of contribution set by village council. Councilman David Webb noted this percentage is high. “There’s generally about 30-33 percent spent on health and life insurance and pension in addition to salary.”

Longevity of village managers has been a recurring problem since incorporation. Two of the three longest-lasting managers also have been the most recent. Edward Koconis of Islamorada, who was promoted from planning director in September 2010, departed to work for the county in February 2014, and the aforementioned Lawless served slightly more than three-and-a-half years. Charles Baldwin, a former Florida Department of Transportation employee who served as manager from November 1999 to June 2003, also would receive a service longevity award if the village gave such a thing.

At the Feb. 24 workshop, council addressed what they sought in viable candidates. Council agreed on a salary range of $150,000 to $180,000, plus a possible housing allowance due to the challenge of finding reasonably-priced housing.

The council voiced concerned about the village not being able to keep managers long-term. Bassett said every village manager has been asked to leave, except Bernie LaPira, who retired.

Baenziger summarized his poll of council members’ thoughts on desirable attributes. These included experience working with other agencies, departments, municipalities, counties, state and federal governments, as well as South Florida Water Management District, and influential not-for-profits such as environmental groups. As well, good negotiating skills are necessary, council opined, to bring home the bacon from state and federal coffers and negotiate contracts with entities like the firefighters’ union, which is up for renewal in September. Infrastructure, wastewater and stormwater, and maintenance knowledge would be valuable, too, they said.

Also worth consideration are spouse and children influence; high cost of Keys housing and living; familiarity with island living and limited city mainstays such as malls and theaters; love of the outdoors and water; familiarity with natural disasters especially hurricanes; familiarity with obtaining grants; and the like.

In response to expressed concern of past councilmembers directing staff rather than the manager directing staff, Baenziger emphasized it’s the council’s responsibility as a whole to direct the manager, and the manager’s job to direct staff. 

“When council goes directly to staff, such as department heads [to offer input], the village manager cannot be held responsible. The council has to follow the chain of command.”

Regarding supporting staff members, Baenziger said, “Stability starts at the top.” If residents are critical of staff, talk to the manager and ask her/him to look into the situation, he suggested.

He also said two-year council terms do not help with consistency of direction. “If I were to recommend something, it’d be four-year terms and a 12-year term limit.” He suggested that would help retain a manager that stays 10-12 years.

Councilman Henry Rosenthal asked about staff turnover compared to manager turnover. Human Resources Manager Evie Engelmeyer said it’s low. Village employees are well-paid with substantial benefits (as our site shows). The Village has 124 employees with personnel costs in 2020-2021 totaling $10,202,173.  

Click here to see Village Finance issues, including 54 employees with gross pay of more than $75,000. 

On May 10, from among all the applications, Baenziger will submit eight to 10 candidates’ applications and interview notes to council for consideration. On May 20, the council is expected to select top candidates.

Click here to see preparation and events for Village Manager interviews.                                                                                                              

Webb asked about citizen participation, and discussion ensued about options, but nothing was set at this time.

During public comment, a resident with hiring experience weighed in.

See his comments here.

Our vision

To enhance the community of Islamorada by preserving the quality of life of the residents as well as the beauty and vitality of the native ecosystems and to stop any further degradation of our community from over-development.

Mission statement

To provide the Islamorada residents with information about events occurring in our community that will impact our quality of life, preservation of our native ecosystems, land development, lawful and transparent governance.


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Contact Us

Islamorada Community Alliance

P.O. Box 1507

Tavernier, FL  33070-1507

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