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Council mulls hiring new city manager

Will explore option of using local search firms, focus on community input

This week, for the first time in 10 years the West Linn City Council met without former City Manager Chris Jordan.

Fittingly, one of the first orders of business was a discussion of how to recruit West Linn’s next city manager. Citing concerns about his tenure becoming a political issue, Jordan resigned in August and was replaced by Interim City Manager Don Otterman.

On Monday, Otterman presented three options for the Council moving forward: internal promotion, an internal recruitment process and an external recruitment process.

“I’d like the Council to discuss the pros and cons and give staff direction as to how you would like to proceed,” Otterman said.

Internal promotion would be the simplest option, he said. If the Council honed in on a current city employee with the qualifications and interest in the job, a widespread recruitment would not be necessary.

More likely, however, the Council will turn to some sort of formal recruitment process. As Otterman detailed, an internal process would consist of the City’s Human Resources department sending out recruitment information to city staff and inviting them to apply.

“One of the possible drawbacks of something like this is if HR was to process the applications and do the necessary work, it might be a little awkward recommending the hire of an individual who is going to be their supervisor,” Otterman said.

An external recruitment would be done by a professional search firm, based on criteria developed by the Council. The City would complete a request for proposal (RFP) and choose the most qualified search firm.

“The search firm would develop a profile of what you’re looking for in a future city manager: qualifications, personality, background, the experience you’re looking for,” Otterman said. “Some firms offer other services like Council team building and leadership coaching.”

Otterman cautioned that the process, particularly with an outside firm, would be time-consuming.

“After developing an RFP, sending it out, getting proposals, doing interviews, you’re not even looking at advertising (the city manager job) until close to the end of the year,” Otterman said. “Then you have six to eight weeks of receiving applications at the search firm, then they develop a list for the Council to review .... You’re probably looking at not having someone on board until April, unless you want to fast track it.”

Opinions from councilors varied on how to move forward.

“I think the Council should move ahead with an outside search firm,” City Council President Thomas Frank said. “We should appoint a subcommittee to work with (Otterman) to develop a job profile soon.”

“My concern is not just time, but the cost of hiring an outside firm,” City Councilor Brenda Perry said. “We have a fifth councilor who is going to be elected in the next two months,” Perry said. “That councilor should be part of the decision making. I think we have internal candidates and don’t think we need a country-wide search. ... We should hold on and see if we can come to a consensus about a candidate.”

Mayor Russ Axelrod, for his part, suggested a “hybrid” approach of working with a local recruitment agency, which could be more cost-effective.

“When you consider in-house and regionally, there’s probably sufficiently qualified staff in the area,” he said. “I’m not interested in spending $25,000 or $30,000 for a head hunting firm. I don’t think at this level that it would be necessary.”

Axelrod suggested that the City research those local firms in the time between now and the November Council election, while also discussing further what the Council wants from its next city manager.

“If there are search firms that are local, we could see if those exist to conduct a search,” City Councilor Jenni Tan said. “I do believe this is a long process and there’s things we can start on now.”

She added that most city manager candidates prefer to come in with the support of the entire council, and not based on a divided vote.

Otterman agreed.

In the end, Otterman was instructed to reach out to local firms and compare costs. The Council will also look to schedule town hall meetings and other public forums to allow for community feedback on the issue.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or pmalee@westlinntidings.com.


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