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Bal Harbour

Bal Harbour hires new search firm for village manager hiring


Special to The Miami Herald

The Bal Harbour Village Council has decided to start from scratch in searching for a new manager.

In a special meeting Tuesday, the council voted 4-0 to hire Colin Baenziger & Associates to look for a new village manager, thereby ending its relationship with Merrett Stierheim, whose firm had been paid $20,000 to conduct an initial search. Mayor Jean Rosenfield was absent.

“There was a glitch somewhere along the line,’’ said Councilwoman Patricia Cohen. “We thought we were conducting a national search and it didn’t turn out to be that way. They only searched in Florida and we didn’t feel that was comprehensive enough. We wanted to cast the net a little wider.’’

Stierheim said Rosenfield and Assistant Mayor Joni Blachar had instructed him specifically to find candidates who had experience working at municipalities in Florida, which he did. Cohen and Councilman Jaime Sanz only stipulated that the candidates not be connected to Bal Harbour, Stierheim added. Only Councilman Martin Packer sought a national search, Stierheim said.

Interim village manager Jay Smith confirmed Stierheim’s account in a telephone interview on Thursday: “Stierheim indicated to the council he would be advertising for professionals working in Florida, which Stierheim believed was the direction of the majority of the council.’’

Stierheim presented the council with six candidates from the more than 50 who had applied for the post. In April, the council voted to begin negotiations with Steven Alexander, South Miami's interim city manager and former town manager of Cutler Bay. Ultimately, Alexander withdrew his name after some residents objected.

“I am not upset, I am disappointed,’’ said Stierheim. “But for reasons beyond our control, they looked away.’’

The upscale seaside community has gone through a period of turmoil of late. The village fired its police chief, Thomas Hunker, in March after a U.S. Justice Department investigation and a series of Miami Herald stories alleged misspending of money seized from drug dealers and money launderers.

In addition, the village’s longtime manager, Al Treppeda, abruptly resigned in January, telling council members by email that he would not be returning from vacation.

In a recent email to the mayor and council, Stierheim recommended the village either continue the search process that had been established, at no additional cost and include candidates from across the nation who had previously applied, or find a new firm to start a new search for manager.

“At this point it would be my hope that the Council would decide to engage a new firm for that search, thereby releasing us from further obligation,’’ Stierheim wrote.

The council agreed, paying Colin Baenziger & Associates a fee of $18,500. It estimates it will take at least three months for the new search.

Meanwhile, Smith, who has been with the city for 28 years but plans to retire in November 2014, is serving as interim manager. He estimated the village would have a new manager by October.

“I will not be hiring a police chief,’’ said Smith, saying that’s a decision for the new manager.

The council and residents don’t seem to mind the extra time.

“Now everything is in the public,’’ said resident Brian Mulheren. “They are going to take their time because we don’t want a second mistake, we want the best candidate we can get, this is the most important position and we need everything new.’’

Added Cohen: “This is a really major decision that we are making. Hiring a village manager is probably the most important decision we have to make.’’

Herald Correspondent Rodolfo Roman contributed to this report.

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