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Council seeks help in city manager search

Proposals sought from 5 consulting firms
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In its search for a new city manager, the city of Lake Oswego will turn to the experts.

The city has asked for proposals from five West Coast consulting firms that specialize in finding public and private sector executives.

The city is on a tight timeline to replace City Manager Doug Schmitz, who announced in July that he will resign in early September after 15 years on the job. Schmitz will become city manager in Los Altos, Calif.

The city will name community development director Stephan Lashbrook as interim city manager, once Schmitz officially leaves.

Replacing Schmitz is a task that requires a firm with extensive experience and contacts, according to Lake Oswego Assistant City Manager David Donaldson.

The city will ask for proposals from the following firms: Prothman of Bellevue, Wash.; Waldron and Company of Seattle; Waters-Oldani Executive Recruitment of Dallas, Texas; Bob Murray and Associates of Roseville, Calif.; and Avery Assoc-iates of Los Gatos, Calif.

Greg Proth-man, president of Prothman, said there are several reasons to hire an executive recruitment firm: Weeding out who not to hire, making the city as desirable as possible and broadcasting the search in the right areas.

'Candidates really respect when a city hires an executive recruitment firm,' said Prothman. 'Candidates know they will have an independent broker who will be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of a city and whether they're a good fit or not.'

A recruitment firm will avoid candidates who have 'moved around a lot,' also known as job-hoppers, he said.

In a search for a city such as Lake Oswego, Prothman said his firm would do direct mailings in 11 western states and place ads in professional journals such as International City Managers Association. The firm wouldn't likely advertise on a site such as Monster.com, because the job is too specialized.

As many as 800 to 900 responses would be expected from city manager candidates, assistant city managers and other public and private sector candidates. From that, the firm would reduce the candidate pool to 35 or 40 people, Prothman said.

As Baby Boomers continue to reach retirement age, Prothman said the number of qualified candidates goes down dramatically. Ten years ago, he said his firm would attract twice as many responses than today.

That means the recruitment firm must market the city.

'We want to make the city as desirable as possible,' he said, focusing on the quality of life in Lake Oswego.

The winning candidate will be the best fit for the job - someone who works well with the council and city staff, according to Donna Jordan, a Lake Oswego city councilor and member of the subcommittee in charge of helping hire the city manager.

The hunt begins with finding the right recruitment firm, she said.

'What we're looking for is a firm that will have contacts with the most people,' she said.

The winning recruitment firm will likely have to be aggressive in drawing a would-be city manager away from his or her current job - just as the city did when it recruited Schmitz from Carmel, Calif. in 1992.

Jordan said the city will look for some of the qualities that Schmitz had.

'Doug had a very good sense of the community and really listened to the council and tried to find the best solution possible,' she said.

Schmitz helped orchestrate important public/private partnerships such as Lake View Village and Millennium Plaza Park.

Schmitz also was key in the hiring process of city staff in the engineering and community development fields.

And he was adept at mediating deals.

But his tenure has not been without controversy. Last year, Schmitz helped broker the $20 million purchase of the Safeco building, to be used as a community center.

More than a year after the purchase, public pressure has forced the city to ask voters in November whether they want to keep the building or sell it.

Because of the property purchase, a citizens group gathered signatures to ask voters if they want to restrict the city from making any more purchases of more than $2 million without voter approval. That initiative also comes before voters in November.

The votes could force the city to sell the property.

Amid the controversy, Schmitz has said he would prefer having the property used as a community center or new city hall, rather than put it back on the tax rolls as a mixed-use development.

Jordan said Schmitz did a good job and she sees no reason to hire a manager with a drastically different vision for the city.

'We're not in a situation where I think we're looking for a major change in the direction of the city or the way things are done,' she said.

Still, the city manager's main role is to serve the city council. Jordan said the look of the council will change with the departure in January 2009 of councilors John Turchi and Ellie McPeak, as well as Mayor Judie Hammerstad. They will leave their positions because of term limits.

Councilors will look for candidates who have managed like-sized cities, Jordan said. She added that the search will likely be focused in western states.

The winning recruitment firm will search for a candidate who has the right 'fit and style,' said Donaldson.

Donaldson once worked for a recruiting firm, and was in charge of hiring 52 city managers.

The recruitment firm 'really needs to understand who the person is and what they can expect here,' he said.