Tybee interim City Manager Michelle Owens pictured in 2023

Tybee City Manager search close to wrapping, three finalists to be interviewed next week

Mayor praises Interim City Manager Owens, says city council "may make an offer next week” to one of the finalists

Tybee Island will soon have a full time City Manager as the City’s search is now down to three finalists who will each be virtually interviewed by City Council members and the Mayor on June 26 during a council workshop session. Michelle Owens has been filling the void for a year as the interim, and while first term Mayor Brian West would not confirm if Owens was one of the three finalists, he was clear that she is still a very viable candidate for the position during a June 20 phone call with Connect Savannah.

“We hired a search firm (Baker Tilly) who came back with 108 candidates for us to consider. And out of those 108, they whittled it down to 11 names they recommended we consider. But they sent us everything on (all 108 candidates), so we saw it all,” West said. “And then (on June 19) we met and we looked to see if (City Council) had any names that we all liked in common, and we did. We had three names that all of us, you know everyone involved, all of us had these names on our list. And there was a fourth that three people liked, and we discussed for a little while.”

“We decided we're not going to let anyone know who our top choices are, only because we don't want to jeopardize the current employer any of them have.”
click to enlarge Tybee City Manager search close to wrapping, three finalists to be interviewed next week
Tybee Mayor Brian West

Tybee’s six city council members were originally split on the issue of how to fill the vacancy created by the official resignation of former City Manager Shawn Gillen on Sept. 28, 2023. Amended meeting minutes from Tybee’s Feb. 8 meeting of City Council recounts the discussion from council members.

Kathryn Williams, Nick Sears, and Spec Hosti were in favor of using Tybee’s Human Resources Director (Jamie Spear) to conduct a more modest, and presumably cheaper version of the search. Bill Garbett, Tony Ploughe, and Monty Parks voted for a search firm (Baker Tilly), which meant West was forced to vote on the matter to break a 3-3 stalemate. The mayor explained his vote for a search firm to Connect Savannah.
“I think Michelle is doing a fantastic job. I wish we didn't have to go through this process because she really is doing a great job,” he said. “But it is our responsibility to make sure that we have the best person for the job, no matter what that means. I feel like we're required to do a search and make sure we have the best person available. She is doing a great job and she's meeting our needs. I hope she is the best person available, but we have to be sure.”

Tybee used an outside search firm (Stanton Chase) to hire Gillen as City Manager in the summer of 2017. Since his departure last year, Owens has overseen a revamping of the City’s IT department and the termination of Fire Chief Jeremy Kendrick on April 24, 2024. She was also responsible for naming Kendrick’s current, interim replacements.
click to enlarge Tybee City Manager search close to wrapping, three finalists to be interviewed next week
Michelle Owens

“(Owens) has made a lot of choices and the people she has chosen, I think that shows she is doing a fantastic job. She's doing a great job,” West said. “And she was given a situation that was very difficult and has remained difficult. She's had to make some very, very tough choices. The IT Department needed help. And she's done a great job with it. We had some tough things going on with the fire department. She's done a great job with that. She's handled some really tough stuff very, very well. I'm very happy with her.”

A potentially relevant factor is that Owens is the only black official in Tybee Island government currently. She was assigned the role on June 13, 2023, after Gillen took an extended leave of absence in May before officially handing in his resignation four months later. West says race and gender can’t and won’t dictate the city council’s decision next week. But he does suggest diversity is of some importance to him moving forward in year one of a four-year mayoral term.
click to enlarge Tybee City Manager search close to wrapping, three finalists to be interviewed next week
Mayor Brian West (second from right) with interim City Manager Michelle Owens on left May of 2024
“Absolutely not. We can't consider that,” he said of race’s role in the decision making process. “We need diversity, no question about it. It matters. But everyone employed in City Hall right now, all of them are white women. And that's not a trend or choice. It’s just who was there, you know, who was best for the job at that time, right? Michelle has made a lot of those hires actually, or her department has.”
Baker Tilly has offices across the country and the company offers an array of services, including Public Sector Executive Recruitment. On its website, the job opening for Tybee City Manager includes a brochure (see below) for applicants wanting to know more about the job or the area. It also says the job opened up on April 22. Applicants were encouraged to apply by the end of May and “first resume reviews” began on May 21.
“The starting salary range is $155,883 - $165,111, depending on qualifications and experience and is subject to negotiation,” says the details portion of the job posting. “The City of Tybee Island provides a comprehensive benefits package that includes health, dental, vision, supplemental, accidental, and life insurance, deferred compensation, and deferred benefits programs.”

West says citizens can expect to learn something next week following a June 26 interview workshop session (closed to public) and the regular City Council meeting set for the following day at City Hall on Butler Avenue.

“It would take a really outstanding person, in my mind, to (get the job over) Owens. I think we have a couple of outstanding people to interview next week, so of course it could happen,” said West. “We're meeting on (June) 26 and that will be when we do our three virtual interviews, you know, with the top choices. And at the city council meeting – it could end up on the agenda for the 27th – we're waiting to hear back from legal."
"We're not sure if we will have to make the offer in a public forum, or it may be that we have to announce we're making an offer to that person in public before making an actual offer. It’s just something we’re waiting to find out from legal. So, still figuring out how the timeline works on this, but we may have a decision a week from (June 19).”


Travis Jaudon

Travis Jaudon is a reporter for Connect Savannah. He is a Savannah native and has been writing in Savannah since 2016. Reach him with feedback or story tips at 912-721-4358
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