Council might reconsider manager search

At the same meeting where it unanimously appointed city attorney Craig Ritchie as acting city manager for Nov. 17-23, the city council discussed Monday whether to take a different approach to filling its city manager vacancy than was decided last week.

Mayor Laura Dubois said Monday that she and City Councilor Susan Lorenzen agreed with City Councilor Ken Hays' comment at their Nov. 10 meeting that the process for finding a new city manager was "rammed down their throats."

So she met with interim city manager Robert Spinks who presented the recruitment plan at that meeting and he apologized for it, Dubois said.

Spinks' plan included hiring the executive search firm Prothman and Associates of Seattle to find an interim city manager to serve through September 2009. Recruitment would begin in July with interviews in August and a projected start date in September.

The costs for the proposed contract with Prothman were to be considered at the council's Nov. 24 meeting.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the plan with City Councilor Erik Erichsen voting "no" and City Councilor Ken Hays abstaining. City Councilor Susan Lorenzen was absent.

After Dubois' comments at the Nov. 17 meeting, the council discussed the issue in a 20-minute executive session before emerging to hear Greg Prothman give his analysis of the city's recent failed city manager search.

Prothman said the city could restart the search in January and continue but after conducting a half dozen searches in three months, he knows the pool of candidates.

"The reaction I'm getting is this is a troubled city. So you're not going to get high-quality candidates," he said.

Prothman proposed hiring an interim city manager for eight to 10 months, hiring a consultant for discussions on what direction the city wants to take and then have city staff develop a work plan based upon that direction.

Prothman worked as a city manager in the King County city of Des Moines for nine years.

After four new Des Moines council members were elected on a platform of change, they took this approach, adopted the work plan by resolution and finished 85 percent of it, Prothman said.

If Sequim did that, he could go out recruiting again and tell candidates that the council is "agreeably disagreeable," which he can't say now, Prothman said.

"That's the Cliff Notes on the process I'd recommend," he said.

Hays said he found Prothman's statements "curious" because the city's search was "wildly successful" with more than 50 people applying.

Hays also disagreed that the firing of Bill Elliott was an obstacle to hiring another city manager although many people thought so nine months ago.

"Why are you telling us what we were told nine months ago and it's not true?" Hays said.

Prothman said, "That's what they told me."

Hays said some candidates told the council that this city presented a challenge and they were attracted by that.

City Councilor Walt Schubert said the city had spent $200,000 on the city manager search and had gotten nowhere.

"So how is that successful?"

Prothman ended his presentation with, "All the best to you, good luck."

Dubois said afterward that the issue still was under consideration and couldn't be acted upon at a study session anyway.

The council's action at its Nov. 10 meeting came after not just one but two unexpected events.

First, two of the three city manager candidates interviewed Nov. 8 rejected the city's contract offers and the third withdrew from consideration.

Then Spinks announced at that Nov. 10 meeting he will require major surgery to remove a noncancerous but potentially dangerous growth on the auditory nerve in his left ear leading to the brain.

Lt. Sheri Crain, who has been acting police chief since Spinks became city manager, also will be on limited duty because of knee surgery.

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