Gainesville taps outside candidate for interim city manager

The Gainesville City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to offer the interim city manager position to a former executive vice president of Florida Memorial University (FMU).

The commission selected Cynthia W. Curry, who currently is serving as diversity officer with The Everglades Foundation, as their top pick for the position and Fred Murray, a long-time assistant city manager for Gainesville, as their second pick for the position.

The special meeting to pick an interim was the first for the full commission after its fall break. The commission made Murray, who has been with the city since 2007, their official second choice in case negotiations with Curry falter.

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Current City Manager Lee Feldman tendered his resignation on Sept. 13 and his final day will be Nov. 12.

Twenty-two people applied for the interim position. The 10 applications that met the minimum qualifications were forwarded to the commissioners, who then had separate conversations with the candidates.

“It was a really great pool of candidates and that was really, really encouraging for me because I have heard public comments that the situation would not attract good candidates,” Commissioner David Arreola said. “That turned out to not be true. We have amazing candidates that applied. And for me, I think that bodes well for the future of our city.”

Cynthia Curry mug

Hiring the interim city manager is an important step for the city, which has been roiled with personnel changes in the last couple of months.

First, at-large Commissioner Gail Johnson resigned, citing problems with Feldman as part of the reason. City Attorney Nicolle Shalley then announced on Sept. 8 she was leaving for another position. City Clerk Omichele Gainey also resigned on Sept. 8, but withdrew her resignation after Feldman submitted his.

A fourth charter officer, Gainesville Regional Utility General Manager Ed Bielarski, survived an attempt at removing him from his position on Sept. 13.

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said that Curry’s “ability to clearly articulate what [she] saw our issues as being and how [she] envisioned moving us forward” was what drove her selection of Curry for the interim role.

Other commissioners echoed Duncan-Walker’s sentiments and said they were looking forward to working with Curry.

“One of the reasons why I believe that moving forward with her versus an internal candidate, I think—because all the commotion that we’ve had—having a fresh set of eyes come in and be able to look at things is important,” said Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos

In addition to serving as the executive vice president for FMU’s division of finance and administration, and in a similar role at Florida International University, Curry has served as a senior adviser and an assistant county manager for Miami-Dade County and as a special assistant to the executive director of the Orlando Housing Authority.

In 2020, Curry worked as a consultant to the Gainesville city manager’s office, working to develop an adult pre-arrest civil citation program.

“She has had some experience working with us and our government and not so much to be wrapped up in some of the culture we are trying to move away from and heal,” said Commissioner Reina Saco. “She has enough awareness, but I think a fresh perspective for our organization [which] is the best in this year, year and a half of growth and healing.”

The commission voted 6-0 to offer the job to Curry, and that unanimity, which has been rare in the preceding months, didn’t go unnoticed.

“I am really glad that we can get to a unanimous vote on this,” Arreola said. “As important as it is to select the right employee… it is even more important that we work together—and that those employees see us working together. … We have to be better to one another, to our employees.”

Commissioner Harvey Ward said he expects the interim manager to serve at minimum through the city elections in fall 2022, when four commission seats will be on the ballot.

“This is a long-term interim position,” Ward said. “I think it needs to be specifically said that we’re not looking to flip here in a few months. This [interim position] is going to go on for a good, long while.”

Mayor Lauren Poe said he will begin negotiations with Curry this week and hopes to bring back the hire for final approval at the Oct. 21 regular meeting.

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