Lawrence city commissioners have scheduled an executive session an hour before their regular meeting tonight to discuss personnel matters, and their focus is expected to be the hiring of a new city manager.
It is time to get that ball rolling. Although commissioners shouldn't rush the search for someone to replace Mike Wildgen, who left the city manager's job earlier this month, it's in the city's best interests to get a permanent replacement on board as soon as possible. It's hard for the city to move forward in a number of important areas while the job remains open.
For instance, the city currently is without a planning director, following the departure of Linda Finger. It seems to make little sense to fill that key position before hiring the new city manager for whom the planning director would work. Basic city responsibilities certainly can be met during the hiring process, but it's more difficult to undertake major new initiatives or projects while the search is ongoing.
Perhaps city commissioners also will shed some light after tonight's meeting on how they plan to go about hiring a new manager. Obviously, they should do whatever they can to ensure Lawrence finds the best person for the job. Lawrence is an attractive community and probably will have a number of strong candidates from whom to choose, but commissioners likely will need some help from a consultant or search firm to try to locate the best people.
It also will be interesting to see how this particular commission approaches the hiring process. Although three of the five commissioners were elected as part of the Progressive Lawrence Campaign, different issues have spawned different splits on the commission. It would be a disservice to the community for commissioners to apply any political agenda to the hiring of a city manager. They should be looking for the most qualified, dynamic leader they can find to oversee the operation of the city, not someone who agrees with their individual views on certain city policies.
It's important that a Lawrence city manager not only be a capable administrator but also be someone who is suited to Lawrence. It will be important to get community input on finalists for the job, but the final responsibility for filling this job will fall to the Lawrence City Commission.
It is a big responsibility and one that commissioners should take seriously. Lawrence's last two city managers held the job for 19 years and 16 years respectively. Some will say that is too long and that it is extremely difficult to be effective over a 19- or 16-year period. It may be better for the next city manager to serve a shorter period unless he or she is an exceptional individual. The quality and ability of the candidate is far more important than how long he or she serves as city manager because of the profound impact this person will have on the city during a crucial time in its development.
Seeking and hiring the next city manager probably is the most important task this city commission will face. Commissioners must put any personal agendas aside for this search and hire someone who will serve not only this commission but future commissions and residents of Lawrence with vision and integrity.