Thursday, August 21, 2008

City Manager Search and Selection Process; Part 1


I have chosen to weigh in on the city manager search and selection process because, it is my opinion that, in some regards, people are not considering the City Manager search and hiring process based on the right foundation. To draw opinions of value, those opinions should spring from a foundation of fact and relevant, legal, city policy guidelines.

There have been some legitimate complaints about the process. One argument against the process that I think is a legitimate complaint is that the public wasn't allowed adequate time to get to know the candidates.

Early in the process, the co-chair of the City Manager Search Committee, Mayor Pro Tem Gary Deaver, told the Council and the public that they were not going to get into a hurry to hire the new City Manager. He indicated that interim City Manager Evelyn Honea was well qualified and they could take as much time as they wanted to look at candidates for the position.

It's my recollection, as a blogger/reporter who has attended City Council meetings and luncheons and many other city meetings since early April of 2007, and was present during much of the relevant discussions, that the Search Committee was formed, in the first place, because our volunteer, unpaid, City Council, many of whom work jobs to support their families and make a living, did not have time to initially search for the candidates and so the Council voted to consider search firms to winnow down the field in an open, public meeting. The search firm settled upon was Arcus Public and their hiring was also approved in an open, public meeting of the City Council.

It is also on record that Arcus Public initially contacted over 250 candidates, narrowed that number to 20 candidates and then to 8 candidates who were then brought to Springfield and interviewed extensively by the City Council, and possibly the Search Committee, I'm not sure on that point, but they were again reduced in number, after much interviewing, to the three finalists, MSU's Greg Burris, Hot Springs, Arkansas' Kent Myers and Edmond, Oklahoma's Larry Stevens.

One Council member is on record expressing concerns that the public wasn't allowed enough of an opportunity to meet and get to know the candidates. In fact, in this Springfield News-Leader article, Denny Whayne was quoted expressing just that thought, "I don't think they (the public) did (have enough time to get to know the candidates)," Whayne said. "An ice cream social and a breakfast meet-and-greet. I don't know how you'd have time to get to know anybody.""

In the same News-Leader article, Mayor Carlson, while discussing employee comment cards about the finalists, was quoted as saying, "I can tell you that initial impressions can be misleading," and, "I don't think it would be wise to hire somebody based only on a 5- to 10-minute visit."

So, due to the small amount of time the employees got to actually spend with the finalists, it seems, to me, Carlson was discounting the value of the employees comments regarding the candidates, and don't get me wrong, I agree with Carlson that first impressions can be misleading and I agree it wouldn't be wise to hire someone based on a five or ten minute visit, therefore, I also agree with Whayne. If I agree that city employees' comments were not particularly weighty because city employees didn't have enough interaction with the candidates to really be taken seriously, likewise, I must agree that the publics' comments regarding the actual selection of the new city manager were not particularly weighty because the public didn't have enough interaction with the candidates to have their comments taken seriously, either.

Therefore, in my opinion, not enough time was given to city employees or the public with the candidates for them to form a valid or valuable preference regarding the candidates, so, if that is the case, their "initial impressions" couldn't have been given much value or weight by the Council, whose job it is to represent the citizens, so, in the end, the Council didn't, in this case, represent the people, they represented themselves, individually.

In fairness, I do believe the City Manager Search Committee seriously considered public input regarding the qualities the public would like to see in a city manager, but I do not believe adequate time was given to city employees or the public in the actual selection process of the new city manager and considering Deaver had stated they (Search Committee/Council) weren't going to get into a hurry to hire a new City Manager and that interim City Manager Evelyn Honea was qualified to serve until they reached a decision, it seems, to me, they could have taken as much time as they wanted to allow the public and city employees to interact with the candidates so that their comments and advise regarding the actual selection would have been of more value in the final decision making process of the City Council.

It is also fair to note that, in my opinion, the process was not rushed prior to the Councils' choice of the three finalists but, after the three finalists were chosen, the pace did seem to pick up and there seemed to be a sense of acceleration in the process to get the decision over with and behind the Council.

I do not believe it is fair to the Council to assume they erred by not choosing a recommendation made by the City Manager Search Committee, if there was a distinct preference. Some have indicated there was a distinct order of preference, others have denied that. I'm not going to get into an argument with anyone about whether there was an order of preference offered by the Search Committee because I don't think it is particularly relevant. It was not up to the Search Committee to select Springfield's next city manager. That job, according to the Springfield City Charter is the job of the City Council. So, even if the City Manager Search Committee adamantly recommended a single candidate as their number one choice, it did not and would not, absolve the Council from their duty under the City Charter to select the new city manager. I would have found much more reason to complain, personally, if the City Council had relinquished their responsibility to select the city manager to a committee rather than do their duty.

Section 2.7. Appointment and removal of city manager, as approved BY VOTE OF THE PEOPLE April 1, 1986.

"The council shall appoint an officer who shall have the title of city manager who shall have the powers and perform the duties provided in this Charter. No councilmember shall receive such appointment during the term for which he or she shall have been elected or within one year after the expiration of his or her term. The of the City Manager shall be for an indefinite term, he may be suspended by a resolution which shall set forth the reasons for his suspension and proposed removal. A copy of such resolution shall be served immediately upon the city manager. The city manager shall have fifteen (15) days in which to reply thereto in writing, and, upon his request, he shall be afforded a public hearing, which shall occur not earlier than ten (10) days nor later than fifteen (15) days after such hearing is requested. After the public hearing, if one be requested, and after full consideration, the council by majority vote of its members may adopt a final resolution of removal."*

It was always the intention that the City Manager Search Committee would oversee the search for candidates. It was never the intention of the City Council that the Search Committee would select the City Manager for the Council. In fact, the City Manager is under the purview of the Council and is, according to the City Charter, to be selected by the Council and if, for some reason, the City Manager fails to perform his job satisfactorily, it is the City Council who must vote to approve a resolution to have him or her removed. No one else has the ability to approve a resolution to remove the City Manager but the Council.

So, in my opinion, for what it's worth:

Legitimate complaint 1: The public was not allowed adequate time to get to know the candidates and were, therefore, shut out of the actual selection process because they could not make a recommendation based on anything other than a first impression of the candidates.

Illegitimate complaint 1: The Council erred and was somehow bound to accept and hire a recommendation by the City Manager Search Committee. The Search Committee was to assist the Council in the preliminary process, then hand over the decision to the City Council.

*emphasis mine


Jason said...

I agree with the opinion you stated at the end of your piece.

Anonymous said...

I believe if you are a "hometown boy" that is worth an additonal $30,000 on the pay scale.

and if you are related to the proper people, that is worth an
additional $10,000 bonus.

If you are from out of town, and do not know the mayor, you are probably not even smart enough to live here.

Anonymous said...

When will everyone stop their unfair whining?

Let's just be glad Carlson and Finne's buddy got a sweet deal from the city.

Give Burris some time. Time to review the numbers, decide there's no fat to cut in the city's budget, and start proposing new tax hikes to cover council and staff's hideous mistakes...

Want proof? Just wait a few months, and watch as this plays out just as I describe...

tom said...

Burris stated at one point he was fairly concerned about the "issues" this city has and yet not one peep out of him that I can find on the city audit, the pension system shortfall, under staffing of emergency services personal, embezzlement of funds, and I could make this list quite longer but I'll stop here.

As a concerned citizen who had a highly regarded position with a second tiered university in this town, I would think his input to be beneficial.

He did as most do in the city, they drop to their knees and hide there heads in the sand and hope the problem goes away, after all isn't that why we have such a "professional" staff hired to correct these problems.

Mr. Burris has much to prove and his priorities will tell us which direction he's going to head. He has two choices "the lone maverick" or "company insider" the choice is his and some in the city are watching to see which direction we go

"emphasis mine"

Jackie Melton said...

"...some in the city are watching to see which direction we go"

I'm glad of that, Tom, wouldn't have it any other way.