Mark Taylor
The Gardner City Council’s Oct. 10 work session ended with an argument between Mayor Dave Drovetta and Councilman Larry Fotovich over a perceived $4,500 billing discrepancy for the consulting firm the city hired to assist in the search for a new city administrator.
The Gardner News reported last week that the city paid Springsted Incorporated $4,500 beyond its $11,000 base fee for its services in the candidate search, which was put on hold by Drovetta last month.
Fotovich requested an itemized bill for the additional charges, which Melissa Mundt, interim city administrator, provided at the end of the Oct. 10 work session.
The additional $4,500 fee was listed as a “miscellaneous” cost for additional reference checks for candidates.
“It is a fee you are responsible for paying outside of other fees, like screening of resumes…,” Mundt said.
Fotovich said he believed reference checks were included in Springsted’s $11,000 base fee.
“It looks like we paid twice,” he said. “We paid for him to do his job, which was to do the references, and then we got charged again.
Drovetta countered that the estimated cost of reference and background checks was $1,100 per candidate and Springsted only billed the city for $750 per candidate because no background checks had been performed by the time the candidate search wassuspended.
Fotovich said he believed the reference checks were completed before any interviews were conducted.
“We had anonymous references from peers, colleagues, subordinates,” he said.  “We had all the information in our binders prior to the first meeting we did, which was probably back in July.”
At that point, Fotovich asked to see the binder that contained information about the reference checks.
Drovetta responded, “You’re not going to (see it).”
Fotovich asked, “Why not?”
Drovetta, who had suspended the administrator search last month after the top two candidates withdrew their names from consideration, said, “Because this process is over.”
Fotovich responded, “You may think the process is over, but the records are not closed.”
Drovetta then referenced a 1982 city ordinance that gives the mayor power to appoint the city administrator with the approval of the council.
“This process of the appointment, I have closed,” he said.
Mundt then asked Fotovich what he expected to learn by looking at the reference documents.
“I think we’re going to learn that we got charged $4,500 that we should not have been charged,” Fotovich responded.
The Gardner News contacted other the other council members, who did not speak during the verbal exchange between Drovetta and Fotovich, to ask whether they believed Fotovich should have been granted access to the information he requested.
Only two council members – Kristina Harrison and Chris Morrow – responded.
“I think that a meeting between Mayor Drovetta, (City Human Resources Manager) Mary Bush and Larry Fotovich to review the information and address any questions is the appropriate way to handle this request,” Harrison said.  “This is a situation that can and should be quickly and simply resolved from my perspective.”
Harrison added that she was “personally comfortable” with Springsted’s work, the detail of the invoice, and the city’s payment.
“I absolutely respect that Larry questioned the invoice and the payment that was made, as he should have,” she said.  “Larry was not involved in the contract and I do not recall that we discussed among new council members the extra per candidate costs for the detailed reference and background checks.  I was aware of the costs because I was involved in the selection of the recruiter.”
Morrow responded, “It is a simple request and it could be handled privately, quickly, and efficiently through a single meeting between Human Resources Manager Mary Bush, and the council member. With any luck, and it is my fervent hope, it would be a positive step in helping us put this subject in the rearview mirror of our governing body.”

UPDATE: Brian Broxterman responded to our request via email after the print deadline:

“No I do not (believe Fotovich should have been granted access to the information he requested),” Broxterman said.  “Granting this request would do nothing but drag this out and stop us from moving forward with the process.  The past is past, we need to move forward and select the best candidate we can in the spring. ”