Finding the One- How I’d Like to Hire a City Manager
By Julie Akins
A recent article in The Ashland Chronicle referred to a “Mayor’s Plan” for selecting a City manager scheduled for the July 6 council meeting. I didn’t make an official comment at the time because I think it’s important not to get ahead of myself and I wanted to be certain I could successfully pull this off.
But really, for anything to work well in our town, you the residents must be kept in the loop. You’re the seventh councilor and you carry more votes than the rest so I’ve decided to share my idea so you can kick the tires.
Here’s what I’m thinking: we need an objective third party to advertise and collect resume’s and names for our City Manager and we need that person to be directly accountable to the elected council.
Our past searches were to be done through search firms hired by the city’s Human Resource Department. In that instance, the city itself becomes the contractor or the boss. The staff would help them write advertisements, place the ads and take in the interested applicants resumes and even assist in screening.
It put the staff in a very awkward position and frankly, it failed twice for what I think are obvious reasons.
Employees should not be tasked with hiring their own bosses. It doesn’t appear objective. When it comes to politics, appearances matter. Without trust the whole democratic system can become in peril.
And the City Manager doesn’t work for staff, they work for the residents of Ashland who are represented by their elected city council, so that’s who should hire them. That’s why, in my view, city council needs to do the entire process in a public facing, clear and transparent way on its own.
I suggested this in January so the city could embark on this process in an objective way with a third party assisting us. I’m still suggesting it.
I’ve asked the Rogue Valley Council of Governments to step in and help us do the search with a subcommittee of the Ashland City Council. Those councilors will do the initial vetting of candidates, bring their picks to the mayor who will then bring finalists before the full council. This will be a clear process that residents can watch in plain view.
It doesn’t hurt that this will be a less expensive process and one which is working very well in Talent right now.
In background, The City Manager form of governance was passed by voters May of 2020. More than a year ago residents asked their city council and mayor to switch from a system where the Mayor of Ashland is the Chief Executive Officer to a system where the City Manager holds that responsibility. In theory, a strong manager form of government makes daily operations less political and more practical. But getting the right person for the job who can work well with your elected officials, who is interested in the various areas of concern and who has experience dealing with those concerns would be vital.
Ashland has a structural deficit, we spend more than we take in. Ashland has a growth problem and as a result has virtually no workforce housing. And Ashland, like all western towns but more than many, has real concerns about climate crisis and wildfires.
We need a City Manager who can look at all of those issues with a clear head, strong experience and a spirit of innovation while being willing to collaborate. It’s a tall order. I believe the only way to get there is through an equally clear headed process.
I hope I may have your support on this. I also need council’s support as well or it doesn’t happen. So if you like what you’re seeing here, please let them know.