OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee City Council Tuesday voted to negotiate a contract with Marcos Montes De Oca, the public works director in Belle Glade, to become their next city administrator, Tuesday.
Mr. Montes De Oca said it was a really good feeling to get the support of the City Council, “I like coming back to Okeechobee and give something back and I look forward to the job.”
He mentioned that he had a leg up on most of the other candidates because he knows the city and the issues that affect it. He said he does the engineering work and project management for his current employer and looks forward to helping Okeechobee.
“I loved my job in Belle Glade. I have a great staff. It’s just a decision I have to make for me and my family. I look forward to being more of a part of the community,” he added.
The decision followed a near four-hour meeting as the council interviewed seven finalists for the position.
Public Works Director David Allen and Deputy Clerk Melisa Jahner also interviewed. Mr. Allen emphasized communication with employees, being a good listener, and an open dialogue with the council during his interview.
Cheryl Atkins, a grant writer for the City of Deltona, emphasized her work with grants, her support for community redevelopment agencies to improve the downtown business district, and her interest in small town living, during her interview.
Council focused their questions on leadership skills, communication with council members, ethics, economic development strengths, and the candidates likes and dislikes of their recent jobs.
Mrs. Jahner said her management style would be motivational and inspirational. She said she would emphasize education and training for employees. She said she has some grant writing experience and wants to take additional college courses. She said she is on board with improvements to the city that includes city hall renovations, beautification projects and the Centennial Park.
“My heart is here and I grew up here. I want the best for the city,” she said.
Greenville Town Manager Tim Day said he is a hands-on worker who has experience both as a council member and administrator. He supported CRAs, worked with budgets and finance, and has experience as a police officer. He holds a psychology degree. “I like to make effective change for people and the opportunity to use the skills I have developed.”
Montes De Oca emphasized his work with grants and dealing with employee issues as the public works director of Belle Glade. He said his goal is to work at home.
“I would like to be your administrator and I would like to be here.”
Ronald Murtaugh, a police chief, said his management style is inclusive and adaptable. He said he believes in long term planning and working as a team. He said he has experience working with the Chamber of Commerce and the Community Redevelopment Agency as a police chief in Nebraska. He also emphasized business development and growth.
Noah Powers of Vero Beach told the council that he has 35 years of experience in public service for Florida schools. He tried to compare his experience with the schools and how it would translate to municipal government. He said he tries to demonstrate respect for employees, emphasizes communication, and building a consensus on the job.
“I’m a good problem solver. I’m not coming to Okeechobee to build a resume. I would like to end my career doing something that I enjoy.”
Councilman Dowling Watford called it a very difficult decision.
Councilman Noel Chandler said Mr. Montes De Oca knows the community and all the players and is very experienced.
“I think he would be a better fit than the others. Okeechobee is a walk in the park compared to Belle Glade, which is a nightmare,” he said.
Councilman Mike O’Connor pointed out the city could have two birds with one stone because Mr. Montes De Oca has a degree in engineering and is also an administrator.
“He’s young and energetic and you get a bang for your buck,” he said.
Mayor Jim Kirk said he thought Tim Day and Cheryl Atkins answered all the questions while a couple of the candidates dodged the questions with their answers.
Councilman Gary Ritter said he felt three candidates rose above the others, Mr. Murtaugh, Mr. Montes De Oca and Mr. Atkins. He said they gave examples when they answered the questions and were more specific about their ideas.
Councilman Dowling Watford said he was really impressed with Mr. Day who is currently a manager. Mr. Watford said he has good experience with CRAs and likes living in a small community. He also liked Ron Murtaugh because he had good ideas and military leadership skills. He also praised Montes De Oca for his experience and Jahner, who was impressive in the interview process.
The council narrowed the field down to Mr. Montes De Oca and Ms. Jahner. They mentioned Mr. Montes De Oca has the engineering degree that might bring dividends if the city can develop the City Industrial Park further.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News