Archive for Tuesday, June 20, 2006

City manager search will likely go into September

June 20, 2006


The search for a new Lawrence city manager likely will take about a month longer than city commissioners had planned.

Commissioner Sue Hack said commissioners now believe they won't be ready to hire the city's top executive until late September. They had hoped to have the job filled by late August.

"I think our recruiter has basically told us that our original timeline was too aggressive," Hack said. "It will take longer than we had hoped, but we want to make sure we take the time to do the job correctly."

The city seeks a replacement for Mike Wildgen, who was forced to resign in March after serving 16 years as the city's top non-elected official.

Frank Reeb, city clerk and director of administrative services, is helping commissioners with the search. He said the late August deadline hadn't been officially scrapped but was looking doubtful.

"We're still going to try for that, but as each day goes by, it becomes more and more unlikely," Reeb said.

Hack said the Massachusetts-based recruiting firm of Bennett Yarger Associates has talked individually to each city commissioner about the position, and it is working on preparing a job description that can be used in advertisements. National advertising likely would begin in July, with some interviews beginning in late August or September.

Dick Bennett, president of the recruiting firm, said the new timeline shouldn't hurt the city's chances of finding a qualified applicant, though it does make it more difficult for some candidates with school-age children to move.

"I'm sure there will be good interest in the position," Bennett said. "The community always has had a strong reputation from people in this business. It has a history of qualified, experienced people holding the job."

Hack said the delay should not cause any problems for the city.

"We're not missing a step in the interim," Hack said. "It's not like the business of the city has come to a standstill. Staff members are still working very hard and getting a lot done."

Gwen Klingenberg, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, agreed Interim City Manager David Corliss was doing a good job managing the transition period. Klingenberg said her group's focus was on what qualities the next city manager should possess.

"We're really looking for someone who is consistent," said Klingenberg, who spoke with members of the recruiting firm while they were in Lawrence last week. "We want somebody who is able to say 'no' when 'no' needs to be said, and somebody who says 'yes' when 'yes' needs to be said.

"And we want somebody who always keeps the neighborhoods in mind."

Klingenberg was part of a group that also included representatives from the business community and Kansas University who spoke with Bennett last week.

Jeff Weinberg, assistant to KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, said he stressed to Bennett how being a university community presents unique challenges ranging from housing issues to Final Four celebrations that spark community-wide parties.

"I stressed the need for close relationships between city and university offices," Weinberg said. "Those relationships are important to us."

Attempts to reach several members from the business community who spoke with Bennett were unsuccessful.

Some details of the search process remain undecided. Hack said commissioners had not decided whether to have a public open house for the two or three finalists who commissioners bring in for interviews. That approach has been used by KU officials recently as they've attempted to fill several high-profile positions.

Bennett, though, said that hasn't been a very common approach for city manager searches.

"You have to be very respectful of the confidentiality of all the candidates," Bennett said. "You don't want to do anything to hurt them where they are at."

Klingenberg, though, said she thought a public open house would be good for both the community and the applicants.

"I know the ultimate decision is with the commission, but I think it would be great for the community to have a chance to meet the finalists," Klingenberg said. "It would allow the community and the candidates to get some feelings about each other."


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