Friday, July 17, 2009

Citizens Should Be Able to Trust Council on New Manager Hire Says Another City Manager

Burcham Prior to Council Closed Session

Burcham Prior to Council Closed Session

A smooth transition in some positions would mean a week or two of overlap with the exiting staff employee. A highly unlikely prospect in a city manager position.

Curiously I asked Carol Jacob, Manager for the City of Stanton, California what she thought of any overlap with a departing city manager. “I have worked in these kind of situations and it is very awkward,” said Jacob. She explains that the new City Manager needs to be able to establish themselves without the judgments and perceptions of the prior City Manager – particularly if the exit of the City Manager was not voluntary. “If someone is smart enough to be a City Manager, they are smart enough to figure out the politics of the City fairly quickly,” said Jacob.

Roanoke City Council has promised public input to the hiring of a new city manager. What exactly “public input” will look like is anybody’s guess. There has been no solicitation for public input to this point. It was suggested at the time of Burcham’s release that the public would be able to interview or ask questions of the frontrunner candidate. The public has been assured of at least some solicitation of what they want in a city manager that includes the “must haves” and the “nice to haves.”

Jacob was Finance Manager for three years prior to being appointed Stanton City Manager by Council. She thinks while citizen input is critical to the local government process she does not believe it is appropriate in the hiring of any staff member.

The City Council is the elected voice of the people. “The citizens need to trust that the City Council will choose a new city manager to meet the City’s needs,” said Jacob. With a 20-year career in government she has found that most people do not understand what local government does and how it operates. When hiring a City Manager, “it is important that those hiring him/her understand what it takes to be a good City Manager,” explained Jacob. 

Councilman Rupert Cutler responded in an email saying that the Request for Proposal (RFP) responses for executive search services will be opened July 23. Cutler is coordinating the effort. Cutler said Council  will serve as a “committee of the whole when it comes to making all important decisions in this regard.”

According to Cutler there will be public input opportunities early and late in our process.

City Manager Roulette a Costly Game

Roanoke is not the only city having manager trouble. Winchester, Virginia just had a manager resign under similar circumstances. In Winchester’s case the city manager left in less than a week without severance. The contract with the city manager did stipulate 4-month severance if Council had released him without just cause.

Though Winchester’s outgoing city manager was recruited in-house and hired directly by Council they are passing the buck to a search firm named Springsted. Depending on the services provided the cost could be $20,000. No small fee especially for cash-strapped Winchester.

On October 25, 1999 Roanoke City Council entered into an agreement with The Mercer Group, Inc. to recruit City Manager Darlene Burcham. The cost for their service 10 years ago was $17,500. In addition the city provided moving expense reimbursement based upon the lowest of three estimates according to the City Clerk, Stephanie Moon. Moving expenses could have been as high as $10,000 from my personal experience.

Since Burcham’s release is “without just cause” she is entitled to nine months severance according to her contract. Burcham has agreed and Council has concurred that she will work nine months with departure date by March 1, 2010. It took three hours in closed session for Roanoke City Council to reach the compromise with Burcham.

The situation must be awkward for staff working under Burcham. Especially awkward for the Assistant City Manager, Brian Townsend who came from Norfolk with Burcham.

RELATED article: Burcham Handles Council’s Decision with Class – Video

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Roanoke City Politics



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