In a surprise decision, the Brooksville City Council voted unanimously to name Charlene Kuhn, city manager for the City of Brooksville. Kuhn, who had previously served as procurement and special projects manager and public information officer, was appointed interim city manager on August 15 following the retirement of Ron Snowberger.
During its regular meeting on Sept. 18, the City Council heard an update on the search to fill the city manager post from the city’s Human Resources and Risk Management Director, Kyle Martin. At this point in the meeting, public attendance had dwindled.
In her presentation, Martin told the panel that as of Sept. 18, the City had received a total of 29 applicants, 72 percent of whom were, according to the posted job description, fully qualified to be considered for the post. She also said that 66 percent of the applicants had six or more years of experience serving governmental posts, 52 percent had such experience in Florida, and 21 percent resided in Hernando County. Of the applicants, 10 percent said they were military veterans.
Kuhn had not applied for the job.
Martin told the panel that six applicants were chosen finalists in the search and would be subject to interview by council members if the council decided to take that next step in the search process. Those six finalists were chosen by a review committee that included Martin, City Finance Director Autumn Sullivan, Fire Chief Brad Sufficool, City Clerk Jennifer Battista, Interim City manager Charlene Kuhn, and Terry Carter, executive assistant to the interim city manager.
“Our original plan was to do interviews from the city council of the (six) folks who were eligible in order to move forward,” said Mayor Blake Bell.
Martin asked the council how it wanted the process to proceed.
“HR is seeking guidance from council,” Martin said. “Should we move forward with the (previously approved) plan or seek an alternative action?”
In response, Council Member Thomas Bronson made a motion to elevate Kuhn from interim city manager to the permanent holder of the post.
“I think Charlene has done a great job, and we should continue with her as the city manager. That’s the motion that I’m pushing for,” Bronson said. “She brings things up to me and asks my opinion and gets the people’s input on everything she does – so it’s like if it’s not broke, why are we fixing it?”
Council member Christa Tanner agreed.
“I really appreciate the work you’ve done in the past month,” Tanner said. “I think you’ve had to deal with interesting challenges – we’ve already had a hurricane, we have staff changes – and I think you have handled them very well.”
Councilman Casey Thieryung asked Kuhn if she had applied for the job in the first place.
“No,” Kuhn replied. “Since I was on the evaluation committee, I didn’t think it was fair because I’d already seen all the applications.”
When Thieryung asked if she would have applied had she not been on that committee, Kuhn said that she probably would have.
Just before the vote, Vice Mayor David Bailey talked about the six finalist candidates who did apply for the job.
“If this is what happens, we do have six people that have applied, and I feel horrible that if this (appointment) does happen, it would be a waste of their time,” Bailey said. “But I will concur – Charlene has done a marvelous job, in my opinion, but it’s the council’s decision how they want to move.”
Bell was surprised by Bronson’s motion and was prepared to continue the search process on which the council had agreed but also agreed that Kuhn had done the job well.
“Obviously, Charlene, you’ve done a great job, and I can’t go against the (council),” he said. “I appreciate all your hard work.”
He said the way Kuhn was chosen for the job was similar to the way Snowberger was appointed to the City Manager post.
“We had done this (appointment by motion) this way before,” he said.
Ultimately, members of the council voted 5-0 to approve Kuhn’s appointment to the city manager post.
Bell said that the city attorney will draw up a contract for Kuhn’s elevation to the city manager post for the council to consider at its regular meeting on Oct. 1.
“We will make the contract retroactive to begin on Oct. 1,” Bell said.
Kuhn stated, “Thank you so much for all the kind words. My one goal working for this city and any other position I’ve been in- my job is to protect the city, and I will continue to do that. I think it’s important to recognize our employees, but I think it’s also important to build the structure of the employees and a foundation because without the foundation, the tops going to fall… I look forward to working with this council.”
With 13 years in municipal government and ten years in education, she said, “I understand it (municipal government)- I’ve been there. I’ve done that.”
Shortly after Kuhn’s appointment, Natalie Kahler, executive director of Brooksville Main Street, who was an applicant for the city manager job, voiced her displeasure that the Council did not follow up on its original plan to fill the post.
“Yes, I was a finalist for the position, but my disappointment is in the lack of fairness to the candidates and the community,” Kahler said. “If Charlene wanted to be considered, she should have applied and removed herself from the application screening process (and) if she was the best candidate, there was no reason she could not have been hired through the proper channels.”
Kuhn said that her previous position as Procurement and Special Projects Manager will be restructured into two positions to include a Procurement Administrator and a Grants Administrator, both full-time, with a part-time Public Information Coordinator. Those positions will hopefully be advertised by the end of the week.
She will participate in a meet and greet event with other city staffers and members of the Brooksville community at a date to be announced later.