Lawrence City Commission to hire professional firm to conduct nationwide city manager search
photo by: Chris Conde
The Lawrence City Commission will hire a professional firm and conduct a nationwide search to replace outgoing City Manager Tom Markus.
At a special meeting Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously to direct city staff to prepare a request for proposals seeking a firm to do a nationwide search for the city’s next top administrator. The commission is in charge of selecting a city manager, and commissioners agreed that the process of hiring Markus went well and that they wanted to follow a similar process.
“I feel like we had a good process last time,” Commissioner Leslie Soden said.
In 2015, following the resignation of City Manager David Corliss, the commission hired executive search firm Ralph Andersen & Associates to conduct a nationwide search at a cost of $26,000. The commission announced the three finalists for the position in December 2015. Markus was hired in January 2016, and started work in March of that year.
Markus announced last week that he plans to resign in the spring of 2019. Though the commission elected to conduct another nationwide search, it should also expect to consider multiple internal candidates, Markus said.
“You’re going to have some internals that have already indicated their desire to apply,” Markus said. “And they will step back and step away from the process so that there is no conflict there. We’ve already set up those firewalls to make sure that that’s the case.”
As with the last city manager search, the commission also designated two commissioners to take the lead in working with city staff to review proposals from prospective search firms and make a recommendation to the full commission. The commission designated Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen and Commissioner Jennifer Ananda for that role, as they received the most votes in the most recent election.
During the last search, the commission conducted an online survey to gather input from Lawrence residents regarding what qualities the next city manager should possess. Commissioners agreed that they would like to conduct another survey, but that they should wait until a search firm is selected so that the firm can help with setting that up.
Ananda asked Markus what he thought went well about his hiring process and what could have been done better.
Markus said he thought the process was done well, but did suggest that the finalists should have a tour of the city and some formal interaction with other leaders in the community. He said there could be discussions with leaders at the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University, as well as those in the business community and the city’s neighborhood associations.
“Give them a crack at the candidates, because they play a pretty integral part in the community,” Markus said. He said most manager candidates would be used to that public exposure and process, and that feedback from those leaders regarding the candidates would be good for the commission to have.
Commissioners did not indicate how long the entire search and selection process would take, and instead said the search firm would help them determine what that timeline would be. Regarding the timeline, Markus also noted that designating his departure for sometime during the spring, as opposed to a specific date, was meant to provide flexibility should the commission need it.
“I did that entirely with the thought process that it gave you a flexibility for time,” Markus said. “You know things happen that you’re not going to anticipate. The other end of it is, once you’ve made an offer, that doesn’t mean the person starts the next day.”
Commissioners also agreed they were pleased with the firm the city used when hiring Markus, and as part of their motion directed staff to get in touch with Ralph Andersen & Associates and convey a desire to have it as one of the applicants. Markus told commissioners that city staff should be able to have the request for proposals posted in the next couple of weeks.