Money and Process Are at the Heart of the Issues Surrounding the City Manager Search

City Manager Search Reveals Serious Concerns about Money and Process

By Chronicle Staff

Amid controversy and delays, there appears to be progress in the City of Ashland top manager search.

Despite a recent vote delaying the recruitment of an Ashland City Manager, the council “look ahead” indicates the mayor will be revealing a plan at the Ashland City Council Business meeting on July 6th. However, the “look ahead” gives no further detail and the mayor refused comment.

The search for a permanent City Manager for the City of Ashland broke down in May amid calls for the city council to “get its act together” by Councilor Steve Jensen. Councilor Paula Hyatt  called for a delay in the city’s search until August and received a majority vote in her favor.

In May of 2020 voters opted to change the City Charter from a City Administrator/Mayor model to one where the City Manager acts as the Chief Executive Officer and it’s drawn in fighting among councilors and staff ever since.

At the core, there appear to be two key issues: The City Manager in Ashland earns $168,285 according to the “City of Ashland Non Represented Employee Salary Schedule.”

At one of the highest compensation packages of its kind in the State of Oregon, according to The League of Oregon Cities, it’s naturally garnered controversy.

The average salary for a City Manager sits at roughly $113,000, according to the LOC.

“We have to start looking at employee compensation. It represents 60% of the budget” said Citizen Budget Committee member Dave Runkel during discussions throughout May. However the salary remains unchanged.

Meantime, the city council on June 1 passed a budget which calls for increases in residents utility fees: 4% for electricity, increases to the stormwater utility fee by 9% and a 2.07% hike in the transportation fee which drew ire from City Councilor Shaun Moran and Councilor Gina Duquenne who argued against the increases.

The second sticking point appears to be how the recruitment of a city manager should work.

The city’s human resources department recommended and hired recruiters and oversaw the process. Councilors Moran and Duquenne complained that this created potential problems with objectivity in staff hiring their own boss.

While they expressed the concerns as well as a need for an experienced city manager, talks broke down when a large recruiter and a subsequent small, local recruitment firm left their contracts.

City Councilor Paula Hyatt read into the record a list of alleged reasons executive search firm Peckham & McKenney abandoned a contract with the city to identify a City Manager:

“The recent failed fire chief recruitment, high turnover in the City Administrators role, a very experienced candidate serving as Pro Tem which hasn’t received consideration, the differing viewpoints on experience and education and the significant financial challenges facing the city”

The list read into the record implied recriminations which Hyatt said tarnished the city’s reputation. However, the recruiter did not, according to the Human Resources Department send any such document.

In fact, this is the letter sent from the recruiter as supplied to The Ashland Chronicle:

“Thank you very much for the opportunity to serve Ashland and for our conversation Tuesday evening regarding the executive recruitment of your City Manager.  We respectfully, and regrettably, are writing to let you know that we are unable to enter into a professional services agreement with the City for this purpose.” 

The firm’s exact reasons for leaving are unclear, however, the city’s HR Department acknowledges they have a new vendor contract which the recruiter found difficult. “The City recently changed our Professional Services Agreement, and Peckham & McKenney expressed reservations about the contract itself.”

As to the issues raised by Hyatt, the list was formed based on a conversation with the city’s human resources department, no such document exists from the recruiting firm.

As of now, the search remains stalled and there has no been no further movement regarding concerns about salary and process. Speculation has been around two different camps: one which wants Interim City Manager Adam Hanks to retain his position as supported by the former mayor’s proposal withdrawn due to an outcry from residents and the other camp which wants an open search to find an outside, experienced City Manager who may bring new insight to the city’s budget woes.

However, the mayor’s plan may address these issues in July. We’ll have to see.

//inserted by Sharon