Danedri Thompson
Council members worked to create a profile of the person they hope will replace former city administrator Stewart Fairburn.
They aren’t interested in someone who will micro-manage city affairs. Otherwise, the council members did not appear to reach a consensus on the other traits they’re seeking. That may come later as resumes are examined, Dave Unmacht, a hiring consultant with Springsted explained to the group.
He said typically a city administrator search yields 30 to 50 candidates. Springsted will weed out those who don’t match the candidate profile. For example, he said he would discard applicants who weren’t qualified for the job.
And then council members will determine how many and which of the remaining candidates they are interested in interviewing.
“I hope we get around 40 (candidates),” Unmacht said. “But if you get 60 or you get 10, you just need one good one.”
Council member Dennis Pugh said the ideal candidate in his mind will come from a larger city.
“Gardner is going to continue to grow,” Pugh said. “It would be key to have someone with that growth experience. I think that’s huge.”
The city manager’s number one priority should be taking care of the people who already live in
Gardner, council member Larry Fotovich said.
“I want someone who lives their life in an austere manner,” he said. “A lives-among-us kind-of-guy or gal. Someone who wants to live here… Somebody that can passionately defend their position and is willing to quit on principle. Someone who sees the train coming and gets out of the way – not stands there and says, ‘you told me to stand here.’”
Prior to meeting with council members, Unmacht spent the day Wednesday meeting with city staff as well as the director of the Southwest Johnson County Economic Development Corporation and the president of the Gardner Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Involving the eco-devo people in town – they have their own agenda and most of them don’t live here,” Fotovich said.
Council president Kristy Harrison said economic development skills of potential candidates was low on her priority list, because the city provides funding to the two organizations for economic development assistance.
However, council member Chris Morrow said once the EDC or the Chamber has a potential business on the hook and interested in Gardner, the city administrator should be able to close the deal.
Members appeared to agree that they want candidates who will be approachable.
Harrison used Police Chief Ken Francis as an example. He’s visible in the community and spends time in local restaurants and coffee shops.
“The chief is great about PR and communication,” she said. “I want someone who balances that level of professionalism with being responsive.”
She said one of the new hire’s biggest challenges will be budgetary.
“We have no money and a lot of projects,” Harrison said.
The city’s debt is the number one issue the new hire will face, Fotovich said.
“He is going to have to say no to non-essentials and have the courage to do that,” he said.
He wants property taxes to go down, and home values must increase in order to make that happen, he explained
“If you have more people wanting to move here than wanting to leave, if you can do that, we can maintain a high residential tax base,” Fotovich said. “Hopefully someone comes here and builds the next Google, but I don’t think we should pin our hopes on that.”
Pugh said when the recession ends, property values will increase.
“There are going to be issues with managing the growth and the traffic,” he said.
Unmacht expects the hiring process to take between 90 and 120 days. One challenge, he said the city may face in finding applicants is the salary range for the position.
Currently, the range is $78,000 to $110,000. Many applicants might expect to start at the top of that range.
Council members did not reach a consensus on whether to move the scale higher, in part, because they didn’t want to move that scale without having a discussion about raising other city salaries. They will discuss the item during a work session on April 25.