The first vote for the City Manager position – a process that has come down to two finalists – will come on Monday night following a whirlwind of activity this Saturday when the Council will hold a community input meeting and will interview both candidates publicly.
“We have a vote scheduled for Monday night,” said Council President Leo Robinson. “Even on Saturday, we could have scheduled a vote, but it’s a special meeting and I wanted to let everyone digest things and then come back on Monday to vote. We were elected to make this decision. We’ve been at this six months now and it’s time.”
That Monday night vote will be preceded by a lot of activity at City Hall on Saturday, beginning with a community input meeting from 9-9:45 a.m. Residents will be able to give input to councillors, and suggest questions.
Then, at 10 a.m., Finalist Tom Ambrosino will be interviewed by the Council for 90 minutes. Following that, Finalist Mark Rees will be interviewed for 90 minutes.
During interviews, the public will not be able to interact with the process, but they will be able to observe.
“Once we are interviewing the candidates, we’re only ones interacting with the candidates,” said Robinson. “The public cannot interact with the candidates or the city councillors during the interviews. They can be there and observe though.”
While the process has now become clear and laid out, it only arrived there after a fair amount of controversy.
A meeting on Wednesday, May 27, was held at City Hall for the Council to try to figure out the process, but the decisions made there didn’t seem to hold water this week.
At Monday night’s Council meeting, an order was put in to have the community meeting and interviews on June 6, which was just five days away.
Several councillors voiced their displeasure with the date, and several others said it was time to get moving in the process.
A call came for having no community meeting and only interviews on Tuesday, June 9, but that was shot down in a 4-7 vote.
Another motion to have a Council subcommittee meeting and community meeting on June 8, and then the interviews on June 9, was also shot down in a 5-6 vote.
The plan to have the community meeting and interviews this Saturday, June 6, ended up winning the day by a vote of 10-1. Councillor Paula Barton voted against, but a handful of other councillors reluctantly voted in favor.
One of those was Councillor Matt Frank, who said afterward he was disappointed with the process and the quick meeting called for Saturday.
“If our goal is to get people involved, four days notice on a Saturday morning the day before graduation in the summertime seems like a weird time to go with it,” he said. “The frustrating part is I formally requested a meeting months ago to work out this timetable. Now, we decide to have a meeting four days in advance and that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth…It doesn’t seem responsible and adds to my concerns with how the process has played out.”
Another point of contention was how to decide which candidate would go first in the interview process.
At Monday night’s meeting, Robinson moved to pick names on camera during regular session in front of everyone. Several councillors rebuffed the idea though, as it wasn’t exactly what had been discussed previously. Some said it came at the wrong time during the meeting, during the public speaking portion.
Councillors had agreed last week to potentially call the candidates in for interviews, pick the order right there, and have both candidates sit in on both interviews. The idea was frowned upon by the City’s search firm, the Collins Center, which suggested changing that decision.
“It got all garbled there when Councillor Robinson wanted to pick names out of a hat,” said Frank. “I got up and left on purpose. I chose not to be on camera for that while he was doing that.”
Council Vice President Dan Cortell said he was uncomfortable with that too, and didn’t exactly like how the process of scheduling meetings took place.
“That came during the Public Speaking portion of the meeting and that’s not really when you would facilitate that sort of thing,” he said. “As vice president, I was surprised. I was the last person to talk about that and I saw a lot of nods…We left the room and thought things were not going to happen that way…My big procedural thing or question is the picking of the names. There’s something that doesn’t sit right. It is surprising.”
Robinson said he discontinued that part of the plan, and did not pick the order Monday night.
Instead, he consulted City Solicitor Cheryl Watson, who advised him that he had the authority as president to pick the order himself.
“We had lost an entire day on that,” he said. “I got the opinion and Cheryl said I absolutely had the power to do it, so I got two people from human resources and Rich Cuthie and Paul Casino from City Hall and we picked the order right there.”
After learning about that, Cortell and Frank were both unhappy with that process, both said. They said several things changed between last week and this week without a lot of Council input.
Robinson said things had to change because the original plan to interview both candidates at the same time wouldn’t work.
“Right now, I’d be sitting and holding two names and telling them both to come at 9 a.m. on Saturday,” he said. “If I went at 9 and got second and had to sit outside for 90 minutes waiting, I would be saying, ‘Do I want to work for these people?’ That’s the danger we ran into with that.
“If a guy has an interview at noon, he’s not going to show up at 9 a.m. to sit around,” he continued. “He’s going to get there at 11:15 or 11:30 and Stephen McGoldrick from the Collins Center will be there to welcome him and have him wait in the City Manager’s office. He’s not going to be privy to any questions. They’re professional people and we have to show them we’re professional people too.”
Things will get started early on Saturday, and the public is encouraged to come at 9 a.m. to provide input to the Council. All questions and comments will be considered.