Larry Fotovitch
Gardner city councilman
One of my earliest duties as a newly elected council member was to list the qualities I valued in our next city administrator, so our recruiter could begin his search.
I provided my input, but based on the selection process I’ve observed so far, if the best man wins, it will be by sheer luck.
Even on that first night, as we were advised by our recruiter that we should consider raising our salary range, I knew something was up.   Fortunately, one council member asked our human resource manager to provide a salary comparison of similar-sized cities, and at a later meeting, we all agreed that the salary the city of Gardner was offering was competitive.
In June, however, the question came up again.  This time, Mayor Drovetta sent each council member an e-mail asking us if we would be willing to increase our salary range for a “very experienced” candidate who would consider a lateral move for an “opportunity for growth in Gardner.”
I declined to answer, but I learned that only one other council member did not approve his request.
The next time we met, our recruiter gave each of us a one-inch-thick binder full of resumes, cover letters, statements from anonymous references and the answers to initial screening questions.  He gave us only 45 minutes to narrow the list to six candidates we would like to interview.  One candidate was instantly identified by three council members as a good fit for the community.  More about him later.
Another council member and I objected to the 45 minute deadline and were given two more days to read through the applications.  I also read the resumes of rejected candidates and found three with good ties to Kansas and broad experience in city government.
The next week, we learned that one of our original six candidates dropped out of the running, because he didn’t realize he would have to move to Gardner, so the council decided to interview one of the rejected candidates.  Until that time, none of these candidates received even a phone interview by our recruiter, but now, one of them is a finalist.
During the interview, we were handed a list of 11 questions which we took turns reading like automatons.  We were told that this was necessary to properly compare the answers between candidates, but I felt like it was intended to run out the clock, so we’d have less time to ask the important questions we really wanted to know the answers to.
By the time the first three candidate interviews were completed, the Mayor’s choice was clear.  What remained of the process is best described as community theater with community member interviews all yielding the same recommendation.
Now let me tell you about the one that got away.  Actually, the phrase “catch and release” is a more appropriate description.
An Air Force Academy graduate, this retired Army colonel served 28 years including three combat tours in Vietnam in 1969, 1971 and 1972—one as an Air Force Academy cadet and two others as an Army platoon leader in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.  He completed 75 air assault missions and received three Air Medals.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, he went on to receive master’s degrees in international affairs and English from prestigious universities and also attended the Army War College.  He even taught at West Point and later served as an aid to a four-star general.
He began his career in city administration as a Garrison Commander of a 25,000-resident army base with 1,100 employees and a $65 million budget and then served as city administrator for two Midwest cities with populations of 25,000 and 45,000.
His accomplishments were equally impressive.  In both cities he convinced council members to hire an independent auditor which resulted in the collection of millions of dollars of missing revenue the city was owed from cable company franchise taxes and hotel lodging fees.
He consolidated the maintenance of parks department green space and public works right-of-way and eliminated a duplication of supervisory duties which saved the city money.
And when a group of community members asked why the city’s all-Caucasian fire department didn’t mirror the city’s racial mix, he asked the city council to sign an agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to proactively hire black firefighters citing his belief that “it was the right thing to do.”
I am certain, if given a chance to meet with members of our community, this candidate would have connected with Gardner’s residents and small business owners and would have served as a role model for its next generation of ethical leaders.
But a flawed process will never yields good results.  Consider the selection of Gardner’s recruiter.
On the eve of our last election, a committee comprised of the mayor and two of his appointed council members selected the same company to recruit our next city administrator that also provides the financial analysis for every bond we issue to finance the city’s growth.   This conflict of interest should have never been allowed.
In reading the contract the mayor signed with our recruiter, I see plenty of references to the company’s contractual duty to the Gardner City Council but no references to the mayor, yet nearly all of my information from the recruiter has been filtered by the mayor, and in some cases, blocked by him.
Even after submitting, for the third time, my request for the background investigation and credit reports for our finalists, I have still not received that information.  According to the terms of the contract, those records should have been given to us before we conducted any of the interviews.
None of this surprises me.  The city’s ordinance provides for the appointment of a city administrator by the mayor with council approval.  This process, like the Intermodal Review Committee the mayor also chaired, was rigged to give complete control to the mayor.
And if past performance is any indicator of future results, you should prepare yourself for 10 more years of taxpayer-subsidized wealth transfers to large corporations, low-paying jobs, falling residential property values, increasing property taxes, millions of dollars of deferred maintenance and an eventual fond farewell to the city administrator who will make it all possible.