Our View: Take part in the manager search
November 30, 2008
Whether it is a reflection of the economy, a strong desire to lead a growing resort community, or both, the whopping 118 applicants for Steamboat Springs’ city manager position offer the promise of a long-term hire capable of surviving the ebb and flow of local politics and leading the city through a contrasting period of expansion and economic uncertainty.
After messy divorces with the city’s past two managers, it’s critical the City Council gets it right this time around. +That means courting a candidate with relevant experience, political deftness and an ability to influence policy while at the end of the day supporting the direction of the city’s elected leaders.
We’re optimistic that a candidate exists in the pool of 118 applications collected by executive search firm Peckham & McKenney. The number of applicants is thought to be about three times as many as applied for the post in 2006. That search led to the hire of Alan Lanning, who reached a severance agreement with the City Council in July. Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord has filled in since Lanning’s departure.
Peckham & McKenney is in the process of interviewing and screening the applicants. Council eventually will be presented with a list of 10 to 12 of the best candidates. Working with a citizens search committee, the council will narrow that list to six semifinalists. Interviews will help whittle the pool to three finalists who will be interviewed again – this time in public – Jan. 6 and 7.
Kudos to the council for keeping the search process open. Public interviews of the finalists will give residents a chance to see the candidates in action. Unfortunately, public participation in such processes often is minimal; only one resident attended an earlier meeting seeking input about desired city manager qualities.
There is good reason for Steamboat Springs residents to take an active role in the selection of the next city manager – this is the person responsible for the day-to-day operation of our city. The decisions of the city manager impact every citizen’s life and how our city handles existing and future challenges.
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There are a number of critical issues facing the city, with themes of growth, the economy and fiscal responsibility at the forefront. Several large-scale development projects are seeking annexation, the city’s affordable housing policies need to be fixed, the potential for declining sales tax revenues could mean difficult budget cuts, and mismanagement has led to a depleted water fund and an aging infrastructure that could need widespread capital improvements in the coming years.
A good city manager is one who will hit the ground running and deal with immediate issues, as well as longer-term challenges, balancing the management of numerous city departments and hundreds of employees while pushing the city responsibly into the future. The city manager oversees a total budget of almost $90 million, and he or she must be able to work with elected officials of all stripes and points of view.
Conflicting agendas and personalities have led to the departures of the past two city managers, unfortunate episodes that have cost the city and its residents money and progress. Current City Council members are hopeful that within the large pool of applicants is the leader Steamboat Springs needs – and one who will be here five or even 10 years after his or her hire. We hope they’re right. But better than hope, Steamboat Springs residents should participate in the process. Attend the finalist interviews in early January, and make your opinion known to council members and others. The choice for city manager is a decision that will be felt by all of us for years to come.