Sunday Editorial: The Wellington City Manager job search should be a combination of privacy and transparency

first_imgCommentary by Tracy McCue, Sumner Newscow — The Wellington City Council had an interesting topic at its Tuesday work session.The council is starting the city manager hiring search, which might have started that night since a 45-plus minute executive session (closed meeting) was called to discuss non-elected personnel. I don’t know that for sure. I wasn’t privy to the closed meeting.But before the executive session there was a 20 minute discussion on how the council should conduct the city manager job interviews. Some readers on this website feel the interviews should be conducted in open session. Wellington Mayor Roger Stallbaumer brought the issue up wondering if the council had any legal authority to do conduct open interviews.City Attorney Mike Brown said the city has no obligation to conduct any of the interviews in public. He did say the city can place the names of the candidates out there for public consumption when the search gets whittled down to a select few candidates.He said one town in the vicinity did a similar tactic and he said he was aware of four other names who were vying for the Wellington City Manager position when Gus Collins was hired in 2006. He couldn’t recall if the public knew those names though.For the record, Sumner Newscow has never suggested the city manager interviews should be conducted in open session. Am I against it? Absolutely not. I advocate open government and those open interviews would make a great news story. But is it practical? Probably not. There is no doubt when conducting a thorough interview, private information will need to be shared. I’m sure the council members have the right to discuss who is best suited for the job without a public audience.However, that doesn’t mean everything has to be conducted in secret. There are certain aspects of the job interview process the public should be included. The number of candidates who are getting interviewed is one. I would go as far as the council publicly submitting a list of names of the top candidates who are vying for the job. Why? Because it would squelch speculation and rumors and provide historical documentation to the job search process.I don’t think it is out of line to allow city department heads to sit in on the interviews to see if this is a person they can work with.While Wellington is a city manager form of government – meaning the elected council employees hire a person to run the municipality, there are many municipalities, who are run by a full-time mayor elected by the people. Essentially that is the form of government, Sumner County uses. We the citizens elect county commissioners to run the county government.So I ask this question, Mr. and Ms. Council Representatives: What is the difference in electing the county commissioner and hiring the city manager? Both involve the implementation of policy.The city manager’s job is unlike any other job in Wellington. We are basically hiring a CEO for the town. Every other institution head: the Wellington School Superintendent or the Sumner Regional Medical Center Executive Director are in charge of their specific operations. County Commissioners are not CEOs.But the Wellington City Manager is all encompassing hired by the taxpayers of Wellington, Kans. to oversee several department heads. So the fact that people are calling for transparency and even open interviews is not out of line.I know when I was a news editor at the Wellington Daily News in the early 2000s, Wellington Superintendent Ron Fagan had applied for the superintendent’s position at the Coffeyville School District. He was one of the top candidates. I wrote a story about it because it was mentioned in the Coffeyville newspaper who the top candidates were for the job. That article didn’t make Fagan happy. But it was all for naught because he didn’t get the job, and would go on to serve as superintendent in the Wellington school district for two or three more years.So opening the names up to the public is not out of the norm when you are hiring a governmental CEO. Yes, most all of us have probably clandestinely applied for a job while working someplace else. But we weren’t applying to be city manager either.This is a job with so much public scrutiny, that it only makes sense that the public should be included in someway with the process. And if the candidate is worried about privacy, he/she may not be a good candidate anyway.Do you really think Gregg Marshall cares if the Wichita State University brass knows when a blue blood university comes knocking asking him to become their men’s basketball coach? And WSU brass sure aren’t going to throw a fit about him looking elsewhere either. They know what is at stake.If you are a good employee, your employers are going to do all they can to keep you.The council has decided to conduct the interviews and do the hiring itself. When Collins was hired, a committee was formed and a recommendation was sent to the council. That to me makes more sense because then the onus does not completely lie on the council members’ shoulders.If the council hires a city manager who does not work out, then the council members are the only ones to blame. Also, it alleviates the accusation that the manager was hired strictly because of politics.That is why transparency is so important in the interview process not just for the public but for the council itself.Release the top two or three candidates names, and let Sumner Newscow do the leg work on what kind of candidates we have. That way the council will have documentation in defense of its decision and still go into executive session to conduct the interviews.Of course, the council has no obligation to tell us why they selected a certain person to fill this extremely important job. But it has an obligation to let us know the members are doing as thorough and comprehensive of a job as possible when hiring our CEO.Council member Jan Korte said the other night that transparency was an overused term. I disagree. It’s the most important word used because it defines what good democratic government representation is all about. It is what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted the U.S. Constitution.Council member John Brand suggested that the council should go into executive session “without apologies.”Yes, Mr. Brand, you don’t have to apologize for anything. But every time you conduct a closed meeting you run the risk of fostering mistrust amongst your constituents.Trust is a hard thing to get back once it eludes you.Up to this point as a Sumner Newscow reporter, I have found the members of this council to be trustworthy, honest and for the most part transparent.I would hate to see the council blow this reputation with an overindulgent, secretive job search that ends ups satisfying no one and raises suspicion.Follow us on Twitter. Close Forgot password? Please put in your email: Send me my password! Close message Login This blog post All blog posts Subscribe to this blog post’s comments through… RSS Feed Subscribe via email Subscribe Subscribe to this blog’s comments through… RSS Feed Subscribe via email Subscribe Follow the discussion Comments (25) Logging you in… Close Login to IntenseDebate Or create an account Username or Email: Password: Forgot login? Cancel Login Close WordPress.com Username or Email: Password: Lost your password? Cancel Login Dashboard | Edit profile | Logout Logged in as Admin Options Disable comments for this page Save Settings Sort by: Date Rating Last Activity Loading comments… You are about to flag this comment as being inappropriate. Please explain why you are flagging this comment in the text box below and submit your report. The blog admin will be notified. Thank you for your input. +2 Vote up Vote down craig · 314 weeks ago Omg. What a mess. What an impossible, inexplicable, undeserved-by-the-citizens mess. Report Reply 0 replies · active 314 weeks ago +3 Vote up Vote down Janet · 314 weeks ago I agree 100%. I challenge the city council to be more transparent, many citizens are very concerned about the process to hire a new city manager? Why so secretive for a position where the new city manager will work with so many citizens in our community. Report Reply 0 replies · active 314 weeks ago +10 Vote up Vote down dissaponted · 314 weeks ago I voted for Jan Korte last year. I will never vote for her again. I do not think she understand the meaning of transparency. I cannot support someone that wants to make important decisions in secret. Report Reply 1 reply · active 314 weeks ago +7 Vote up Vote down next april · 314 weeks ago Four of the seven on the city council are up for election next April. We need to remember this and send them a public message in April If they want to handle such an important decision as the hiring of next city manager in such a secret manner. Report Reply 0 replies · active 314 weeks ago +12 Vote up Vote down idealist · 314 weeks ago It seems logical to just organize a hiring process..for example -apps narrowed down to 5 by the counsel -Scheduled closed session interviews of those who are available -Top 2 candidates have open session public meet and great..(required speech and social charisma analysis) -counsel votes and makes closed session pick Report Reply 2 replies · active 314 weeks ago +2 Vote up Vote down interested citizen · 314 weeks ago Transparency at any level is a farce. Do you really believe your government is telling you everything all the time. That is the essence of transparency (fill disclosure) and it can never truly exist. Wouldn’t a reasonable solution be to only show the city council members faces during the interview process and exclude the names of the individuals. Employment law protects both the candidates and the employer. Not so sure open interviews is a good idea. Report Reply 0 replies · active 314 weeks ago +7 Vote up Vote down Outsider Watching · 314 weeks ago After Gus was hired it was made public how much garbage he left El Dorado carrying. I don’t want to see another hired like that. KEEP IT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Report Reply 0 replies · active 314 weeks ago +5 Vote up Vote down Larry · 314 weeks ago People you elected these people to do a job and whether you like it or not so let them do it. I agree with interested citizen that transparency is a myth. Just look at our president. You vote for those to run the city and hope they do the job, and if not you vote them out. Report Reply 1 reply · active 314 weeks ago 0 Vote up Vote down SuCo Pride · 314 weeks ago I think the Council taking on the interview process of the CA is a horrible decision on their part, for many of the reasons mentioned above. Have they considered this from simply a KOMA perspective? Each and every interview will now need to be publicly announced with the City’s newspaper of record, and advanced notice given to the public. This will turn in to a scheduling nightmare for both the applicants and the interviewers. How many times will we learn that not all of the Council could be in attendance for an interview due to a scheduling conflict? I also wonder how many individuals on the Council have any experience with hiring CEO level executives, which the City Admin. is? I doubt that any have that experience, so their first try is going to be possibly the most critical position in the City. That doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. Will an HR representative be in attendance during the interviews to avoid these novice individuals guidance on what questions can and can’t be asked? Report Reply 0 replies · active 314 weeks ago +1 Vote up Vote down SuCo Pride · 314 weeks ago To me, they’ve made a horrible decision, and have only invited in the opportunity for this to be incredibly more difficult than necessary, and opened the door for a higher margin of error. How many candidates will move on knowing that their interview could be handled in open session, and their name publicized in the paper? I know Tracy wants the news story, but many will not approve of their current employer knowing that they are looking elsewhere. In regards to transparency, there is a misconception in the public eye between what they WANT to know, what they NEED to know, and what they have a RIGHT to know. Those aren’t always inclusive of one another. Report Reply 0 replies · active 314 weeks ago 12Next » Post a new comment Enter text right here! 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