The Search is On: City Grapples with Hiring Process

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Thursday May 16, 2013

There has been much discussion within the Council over the past couple of months regarding the most effective process by which a new City Manager will be sought and hired. Initially, Chair Pam Mackenzie sought out Lisa Ventriss of the Vermont Business Roundtable to begin formulating a search process which she presented to the Council. However, other members of the Council expressed interest in researching more options. Ms. Ventriss and Deputy City Manager Bob Rusten proceeded to collaborate in compiling a list of pros and cons regarding City Manager search options and presented them to the Council at their May 6  meeting. 

They presented two goals which they felt should guide the search. The primary goal is “to hire a South Burlington City Manager with the technical skills and the ability to function effectively within the City’s culture, so that he/she can successfully assist the City to identify where it wants to be, and then facilitate all administrative processes to reach its goals.” The secondary goal is “to garner community support from a sufficiently varied group of constituencies regarding whom to hire as City Manager, so as to build a broad base of support for the City Manager in achieving the primary goal.” 

The matrix of options included a search led by a head hunter, Vermont League of Cities and Towns-led, Council-led, and citizen-led. It was made clear though, that regardless of what direction the Council chose, they would still be responsible for approving the selection criteria, the composition of the search committee (constituencies and appointees), the budget, and selection of the City Manager. 

Ms. Ventriss proceeded to summarize the benefits and limitations of each methodology. With the VLCT, she said the City was more likely to get a candidate who reflects Vermont state knowledge; however, the Council would be somewhat disconnected from the process and they may receive a candidate who has been chosen more for their technical background than his/her personality or leadership style. In a head hunter led option, Ventriss explained that the process requires less staff time and is more streamlined. But, it is more costly and once again the Council would be disconnected from the process. If the Council led option were to be chosen, it would be a faster process and more in sync with SB and VT culture. However, this would require a large demand on their time and would need significant staff support. There’s also the possibility that this method could become political as the Council would be so closely engaged in the process. Finally,  the citizen led category would certainly consume more staff time, but the City would be closer to reaching its goals. This option would also assure greater input from the community. 

Bob Rusten posed two questions to the Council, “Do these goals make sense?” and where should they (Rusten and Ventriss) focus their energy?” All of the Councilors were in agreement about the goals. They felt they provided a good approach. Pat Nowak said, “The right person will have the technical skills and the ability to work with us and staff.”  Pat Nowak,  Chris Shaw and  Rosanne Greco thought the citizen led committee was best suited to achieving the aforementioned goals. While Helen Riehle was leaning toward the citizen led committee, she did not want to completely rule out the head hunter option. Next, Rusten and Ventriss will work toward identifying a time frame and a budget.  

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent