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City hires Cynthia Curry as Interim City Manager

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

The Gainesville City Commission selected Cynthia Curry as Interim City Manager at its October 12 Special Meeting.

Resumes for ten candidates were included in the meeting agenda, and Mayor Lauren Poe suggested that they start by having each commissioner rank the candidates.

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Instead, City Commissioner David Arreola led off the discussion by indicating his preference for Curry, an outside candidate: “Two candidates rose to the top for me. One was an internal candidate, Fred Murry, and the other was an external candidate, Cynthia Curry. And in my conversations with both candidates, I felt they both had such a strong grasp of the leadership that is going to be necessary for the next year. This commission has done some fantastic work, and I think that the selection of the next Interim is going to be key in succeeding in that work. But I think there also has to be a really strong understanding about where the organization goes immediately and how we are able to heal the organization. And in that conversation, for me, it tilted ever so slightly in the direction of Cynthia Curry.” Arreola added that he was “very impressed with Cynthia Curry’s demeanor. And I think demeanor is going to be very important going forward for this City.”

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he was not in favor of ranking the candidates, and he also thought Curry “rose to the top… One of the reasons why I believe that moving forward with her, versus an internal candidate, is, I think because of all the commotion and stuff like that we’ve had, that having a fresh set of eyes come in and be able to look at things is important. I think she has the ability to work well with the whole commission and the community.”

Commissioner Harvey Ward agreed: “Ms. Curry’s resume, her CV, is terrific. And her grasp of the issues we’re working with was, to me — gave her the edge. Gave her the edge. We’re talking about someone who is currently working with the Everglades Foundation, which is the sort of thing that speaks to a lot of our folks here in Gainesville. She has worked at high levels of finance within the university systems, which obviously is kind of a big deal in our community, as well as having municipal management experience. She’s also done some project work for our City, and that matters, too.”

“She is originally from Gainesville, so she knows—not the City of Gainesville as an organization, but she knows the people of Gainesville. She knows what our communities are like. She has, as Commissioner Ward said, had some experience working with us and our government but not so much to be — how to put it? To be wrapped up in some of the culture that we’re trying to move away from and heal.” – Commissioner Reina Saco

Commissioner Reina Saco said she agreed and was impressed with all the candidates, but “my conversation with Ms. Curry, it gave me a lot of perspective, in that she is originally from Gainesville, so she knows—not the City of Gainesville as an organization, but she knows the people of Gainesville. She knows what our communities are like. She has, as Commissioner Ward said, had some experience working with us and our government but not so much to be — how to put it? To be wrapped up in some of the culture that we’re trying to move away from and heal. She has enough awareness, but I think that a fresh, mostly outside perspective for our organization is best in this year, year and a half of, I’m going to call it growth and healing… I think for this moment in our city, we need someone like Ms. Curry.”

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker also favored Curry, stating, “It was the combination of their very impressive resume, their ability to clearly articulate what they saw our issues as being and how they envisioned moving us forward, that really helped me to be very, very clear and confident in the decision that I was comfortable with making… Ms. Curry was outstanding. I struggled a little bit with the idea of whether I wanted to be overly concerned with selecting an internal candidate. One of the things that helped me was, our internal candidate assured me that whoever was selected, if it was not him, that he would work as a team. And I believe that. I believe we have the strength in that office. I believe we certainly have the ability in that office to add Ms. Curry to our team, knowing that the existing team will work hand in hand with her.” Duncan-Walker said it was “amazing” that all of the commissioners to that point had favored the same candidate. 

Mayor Lauren Poe said, “I am in concurrence. It was clear to me, and I will say that going in, I was most interested in an external candidate if one presented themselves as fully capable and ready for the task. I will say that Mr. Murry made my decision very, very difficult. Fred, you interviewed incredibly well… but to me, Ms. Curry clearly presented herself as the right person for our City at this time. Her experience, her approach towards management, her commitment to our entire community are just exceptional. And she will be a phenomenal addition to our team, as Commissioner Duncan-Walker just stated. Yeah, it sounds like we’re in concurrence.”

Arreola moved to authorize the mayor to negotiate an employment contract for Interim City Manager with Cynthia Curry, with Fred Murry as second choice if those negotiations fall through. Saco seconded the motion. The contract is expected to come back to the commission for a vote on Thursday, October 21. 

We have to be better to one another, to our employees. We have to create spaces where we can have safe conversations with each other. It has to be done up here. It has to be done while we’re meeting with our officers. It has to be done while we’re meeting with employees.” – Commissioner David Arreola

Arreola said he needed to make a comment, particularly because Gail Johnson recently felt that she needed to resign from the commission: “As important as it is to select the right employee, as important as that is, it is even more important that we work together. And that those employees see us working together. And the example that we set up here is the example we set for our employees… We have to be better to one another, to our employees. We have to create spaces where we can have safe conversations with each other. It has to be done up here. It has to be done while we’re meeting with our officers. It has to be done while we’re meeting with employees. And I felt that that needed to be said, because I know it’s been a difficult couple of years for myself as well.”

Ward pointed out that the Interim City Manager will most likely serve until after the November 2022 elections because four commissioners will be elected next fall. “It’s effectively going to be almost as long a term City Manager as we’ve had since 2016.”

During public comment, Cynthia Chestnut, who is running for the vacant commission seat, asked someone to summarize Curry’s qualifications. “Several of us here know her, know her well, but we think that it is worth sharing with the public. She is an excellent candidate, and I would ask that you do that.” However, there was no response to her request.

Evelyn Foxx asked whether it is “absolutely necessary” to “rush into this process of an Interim City Manager.” She said the process normally includes narrowing down the field to finalists and then community input. “And we have to think about rebuilding our community… Our community is in a mess. The City is in a mess. And I love Gainesville, just like most of you do. And we just wanted to make sure that the process is done properly. So, I’m very disappointed with this process of five people, that we elected, not giving us an opportunity to meet your last five candidates, and just kind of meet and give you our input, the community. I think we are making a bad decision by not involving the community in the process. And I wish you would reconsider and do that.”

Mike Perkins said it seemed like the decision had been made before the citizens even had a chance to speak. “Also, we have history. The last few city managers that you hired came from the outside. So, these internal candidates have been sitting there, patiently, learning, growing, experiencing, going through all the things that we have experienced. I would think that they’ve learned something. I would think that they have an ability to do a better job than somebody coming from the outside… But when will we give them an opportunity?… And again, with a candidate from the outside. It did not work out. Citizen uproar with the last candidate and the one before that. City winds up in an uproar, and we wind up doing the same thing we did before that got us in this spot.” He also said it “doesn’t feel good” that all the “supposedly independent” commissioners interviewed ten candidates and all ended up favoring the same one.

In response to Ms. Foxx, Poe said they need to fill the opening quickly, but when it comes time to hire the permanent City Manager, they will go through the community engagement process. He also said that Feldman was an outside hire, but the one before that was an internal candidate. 

The motion passed unanimously.

Curry’s resume

It appears that Cynthia Curry left Gainesville in the mid-1970s, graduating from the University of Miami in 1977 and going to work for Metropolitan Dade County that same year. She worked for Miami-Dade County until 1995 and then worked for Florida International University in the Division of Business & Finance until 1998. She was President and CEO of CWC & Associates, Inc. from 1998 through December, 2005. Her company provided “a cross-section of services to for profit and non-profit business enterprises, state and local agencies in the areas of budget and financial analysis, business development; community outreach; human resources management and training; government management; marketing/promotions, and event planning.” The clients listed in her resume are mostly in the Miami-Dade area.

From 2006 to 2010, Curry worked as a Senior Advisor to Miami-Dade County, followed by two years at the Orlando Housing Authority and six years at Florida Memorial University in the Division of Finance and Administration. She worked as a consultant to the City of Gainesville from August, 2020, to October, 2020, “to conduct research and work with staff to develop an Adult Pre-Arrest Civil Citation Program.” She has been a consultant to The Everglades Foundation since April, 2021, in the role of Diversity Officer. Her resume can be found here.

Other candidates

The other candidates were Fred Murry, Assistant City Manager (internal); Kate Farmer, Senior Accountant (internal); Michael Brillhart; Edward Gomeau; Thomas Green; Kenneth Lawson; Leonard Sossamon; Adam Wilson; and Emmanuel Adediran.

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