City leaders could ask Donaldson for contract extension

The Lake Oswego City Council decided last week to continue holding off on making any decisions related to hiring a permanent city manager.

Earlier this year, the council set a goal to establish a recruitment process for hiring a permanent chief executive of the city government by early October. At the same time, council members indicated they would wait to actually hire anyone for the job, punting that duty to the next slate of council members, some of whom will take office in January.

Former Assistant City Manager David Donaldson took the top job in February on a long-term but temporary basis. His one-year contract will expire this coming February, although it includes an option to extend the arrangement for another six months. His acceptance of the position followed Alex Mcntyre’s resignation to become city manager of Menlo Park, Calif.

Megan Phelan, the city’s human resources director, presented a draft timeline for a national recruitment effort to the council Sept. 18. Selecting a recruiter could take four to six weeks, she said. The recruiter would then develop a position profile, a document requiring input from city council members about the skills and characteristics applicants should possess.

If the process is agreed on soon — allowing a recruiter to begin work when new councilors assume office in January — a new hire could come on board next summer.

“This will create flexibility for someone whose kids are in school or needs to sell a house; it’s a better time for them to do that,” Phelan said. The recruitment effort is estimated to cost $20,000 to $30,000, she said, noting the recent police chief recruitment cost about $25,000.

Councilor Bill Tierney suggested waiting to begin the process for six months to one year, which would give the three or four new council members taking office in January some time to settle in.

“Starting a recruitment weeks or months into people’s service on the city council puts them in a very difficult position. I think it takes time to get your feet under yourself,” Tierney said. “Choosing a city manager is a very important and critical thing. I think this is premature.”

If that’s the approach council members opt for, Donaldson would have to agree to extend his contract beyond six more months, Phelan said, adding: “It certainly would maximize your councilors’ ability to make a better assessment of what they’re looking for in a city manager.”

Councilor Mary Olson agreed with waiting to begin the recruitment process, although she didn’t share Tierney’s opinion about newcomers needing time to get up to speed.

“I think the candidates are not completely oblivious to what’s going on in our city,” Olson said. “They aren’t living in a vacuum.”

Mayor Jack Hoffman asked Phelan to resume the conversation in November, when the sitting council members and newly elected city leaders can schedule a meeting on what he sees as a complex, and sometimes controversial, topic.

“It’s a council-manager form of government,” Hoffman said. “That’s a challenging relationship in terms of what is policy and what is administrative, and sometimes we cross into each other’s areas.”

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