The big corner office is now filled, but the hiring is far from done at City Hall.
New City Manager David Corliss said Tuesday he hopes to have a new planning director and a new director of utilities - two of the more important city positions responsible for ensuring orderly growth in the community - filled by the end of the year.
"We want strong managers," said Corliss, who was named city manager Friday after serving as interim manager for six months. "We want people who can bring innovation."
Corliss said the search for a planning director has made the most progress. He said the city already had identified candidates for the position and will interview them this month. Former City Manager Mike Wildgen had started the search for a planning director, a job that became open after Linda Finger resigned in December amid controversy the city had not adequately planned for growth.
But the search process came to a halt when Wildgen resigned in March after a majority of commissioners continued to criticize the city's planning efforts and infrastructure maintenance.
Corliss declined to reveal anything about the candidates or how many will be interviewed. But he said all the candidates recently expressed continued interest in the job.
It likely will be a different type of job than what they applied for, though. Corliss said a major factor in the hiring will be whether the candidates would feel comfortable working in a restructured department.
Corliss said he's considering recommending that the Planning Department and the city's Neighborhood Resources Department - which oversees building permits and a variety of inspections - be merged.
That idea also has some City Commission support. City Commissioner David Schauner has been lobbying for the concept for several years. He said it will make the development process more efficient and understandable by creating a one-stop shop for both developers and residents.
"Until we do something like this, I think we're just going to continue to frustrate people who go through City Hall," Schauner said.
Mayor Mike Amyx said he wants Corliss to focus on finding a department leader who understands the importance of making planning regulations understandable and predictable.
"When you have staff members making recommendations to us on projects, you want to make sure they are consistent throughout the process," Amyx said.
Corliss said one of the chief complaints about the planning process in Lawrence is that projects are forced to hit a moving target in order to win approval.
"I can tell you that we're not going to do that," Corliss said. "One of the things I have done as interim and will do as the city manager is get the right number of resources on the issue."
Clinton Park improvements to begin soon
A host of improvements will start soon at Clinton Park in the Pinckney Neighborhood. City commissioners Tuesday night unanimously approved a $234,190 bid from Lawrence-based B.A. Green Construction to rebuild the park's shelter house and rest rooms and replace concrete paths. The park, which is near Fifth and Alabama streets, will feature a new shelter house that will overlook the valley that runs through the property, said Fred DeVictor, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department. The shelter house also will feature a small deck overlooking the valley. Work on the project is expected to begin within the next few weeks and could take several months to complete, depending on the weather. Commissioners approved the improvements on a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Mike Rundle was absent from the meeting.
One new planner was added this year and another $112,000 has been set aside in the 2007 budget to hire additional staff for the Planning Department or Neighborhood Resources Department. The city also recently added a new staff attorney - John Miller, who previously worked as attorney for the City of Olathe - to handle planning-related legal matters for the city.
The city will be responsible for hiring the new planning director but will do so in consultation with Douglas County, which pays for one-sixth of the department's expenses.
Corliss said he hoped a hire could be made by the end of this year but didn't rule out restarting the search process.
Director of utilities
The search for a new director of utilities - which oversees the city's water and sewer operations - is not as far along, Corliss said. The city just started advertising for that position, which became open after Roger Coffey retired in September 2005 after working for 30 years with the city.
"We'll be looking for someone who can be a good translator of technical water and sewer requirements to the rest of the community," Corliss said. "And we'll need someone who has strong skills in the planning of infrastructure so we're not surprised by the necessity of public improvements."
The utility director position is expected to be one of the key positions in the city's management team for the next several years. In addition to overseeing an approximately $30 million budget, the director will be responsible for overseeing construction of an $80 million sewer treatment plant along the Wakarusa River.
Corliss' own hiring also could create two vacancies in the city's management team, because he served as both an assistant city manager and director of legal services.
Corliss said he would make a decision in the next week about whether those positions would be filled or if there would be a reorganization of staff duties that would no longer require the two management positions.