Special City Council Meeting: January 14, 2014

The Lowell City Council meets at 5:30 pm in special session to discuss the process for selecting a new city manager and a new city auditor. The following is not a verbatim transcript but my notes taken as the councilors speak. For brevity’s sake, I just use the last names of councilors.

Mercier: Has documents re the process from seven years ago. Steps: Set salary range; advertisements – where, how often; criteria for applicants (degrees, experience); deadline for applying; extent and form of public participation. She does not favor a search or screening committee. People elected us to do a job. This is the screening committee. Suggests they discuss each step individually.

Leahy: Do we have any paperwork on the process in the past.

Elliott: I asked Ms. Callery of Human Resources to attend and bring copies of past procedures (she distributes copies to the councilors). I took the liberty to prepare a proposed date schedule which I will pass out.

Belanger: Time is of the essence here. I want to share that Manager Lynch came in at $160K and now gets $180K. Justifies a cost of living raise each year. I’d like to see the incoming manager to work his way up to that salary. We should offer what manager Lynch came in with, say $165K.

Mercier: I favor the $165K to $180K salary range. It’s an important job but I don’t want to give the store away.

Martin: Leahy asked Human Resource manager what other communities are paying. Wouldn’t we want to know that first? (They don’t). We ask for this information; aren’t we going to wait to get it to decide?

Kennedy: I agree with Martin. We need to know the salary range to proceed. But sometime advertisements say the salary is negotiable. That might generate the most interest. If we’re not going to do that, we have to find out what the competition is going to offer.

Elliott: That’s the purpose of a range.

Kennedy: I’m just wondering if the range we have is not competitive. If it’s not, we won’t be the most sought after city.

Leahy: I would like to know what the ranges are before we set one. Compares process to schools hiring superintendent which was higher than this. We can either wait for the info or start with a higher amount.

Milinazzo: I would like the info about salary ranges. Suggests contacting UMass Boston Center for Public Policy for assistance. Also says job description is seven years old and should be updated. Perhaps we can form a working group to come back to the council with an updated description.

Samaras: I agree with Leahy. Candidates should know a firm range rather than facing broad negotiations. There are few good candidates. To get the best, we should show that we have clear salary ranges.

Rourke: The last contract signed by the Worcester City Manager was $189K. I also agree with revising the job description.

Elliott: Good, now we have a high range.

Kennedy: Are you suggesting that should be the high range?

Elliott: Well, that’s the info that Martin wanted.

Martin: That’s from a year ago but they’re advertising for a new one. I’d like to know that. In high level executive positions salary is not the most critical component and is often left till the end. Locking ourselves in is not a good idea.

Leahy: I thought we’d wait until next week to set the range after we have more information.

Kennedy: Moves that advertisement indicates what incumbent is making now ($180K) and that new salary is negotiable. If you put a range, the candidate is going to look to the upper end.

Unanimous on voice vote.

Milinazzo: Moves councilors review current job description and submit proposed changes to mayor for the next special meeting and to have HR get new job descriptions from Worcester and other cities to use as guides.

Kennedy: We should indicate whether we will offer a contract. I oppose that but some favor it. We should decide that up front. Some who might apply might expect a contract so we should take a stand on that now so applicants know what they’re getting into. Moves that the ad say successful candidate “serve at the pleasure of the council without a contract.”

Martin: I can foresee someone who is so good that in changes the minds of councilors about a contract.

Mercier: I think we do limit the quality of people if we state up front that we’re not offering a contract. I would leave that out.

Samaras: I come from an area where contracts were part of the job description. If we’re looking for the best candidate, we have to keep that as an option. It’s very hard in a political atmosphere to work without a contract.

Rourke: I think we need to make our decision on this tonight. If we go through the whole progress and no contract is a deal breaker, we’ve wasted our time.

Milinazzo: I’ve been very public about the benefit of a contract. I think this motion would limit the applicant pool.

Belanger: I agree with Kennedy’s motion. We should say up front what the parameters are. I don’t see an advantage for the tax payers or the city to having a contract.

Leahy: I’ve been up in the air on this so I would go either way on a contract. I think it depends on what is in the contract. I’ll oppose this motion.

Mercier: From experience there was a tremendous man in Dracut who never had a contract and stayed there for more than 20 years. I’d love to see what they used to keep him for 20 years.

Rourke: My concern is what benefit does a contract have for the city? I don’t see the benefit.

Milinazzo: The police chief has a contract. The superintendant has a contract. Why would the city manager not have a contract:

Kennedy’s motion to state “no contract” fails with five opposed (Leahey, Mercier, Martin, Milinazzo, Samaras) and four in favor (Kennedy, Rourke,
Belanger, Elliott).

Advertising: HR Callery says last time it was advertised in the Mass Municipal Association, Lowell Sun, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Springfield Republican, city’s website.

Kennedy asks rationale for advertising in Springfield and the Herald. Moves to delete the Springfield paper.

Martin: I don’t need the need for Springfield either but I substitute Worcester Telegram.

Milinazzo: Does it make sense to put an ad in the Khmer Post?

Martin: My motion was just for this list but I think it would be wise to broaden it. Most people who get jobs these days don’t get them through newspaper ads. We should hear from HR what other avenues are available (especially online).

Callery: Globe ads go to monster.com. Lowell Sun has its own website.

Elliott: Next is the time frame for ads and response deadlines. I did hand out a proposed process with suggested dates.

Mercier: I would say the time for advertising should be January 28 to February 13 since we’re meeting next week to resolidify it.

Elliott: So we’ll meet next week to finalize the job description and set the time for advertising.

Kennedy: Your schedule seems kind of tight. I’d like to see the ad run for a month. We shouldn’t feel a sense of urgency for filling this job by March 10. It’s going to take a little while. If we have to do something short term in March then we can address that then.

Elliott: We’ll set a special meeting for next Tuesday to continue this.

They set deadline for submitting application as February 28, 2014.

The council will meet next Tuesday, January 21 at 5pm and begin with the auditor position and then finalize the manager’s position.

5 Responses to Special City Council Meeting: January 14, 2014

  1. Mr. Lynne says:

    It’s worth noting that when the overall size of the administration was an issue that resulted with Rita making a motion to eliminate an assistant, the council was not interested at *all* in getting any context from the data of other municipal administrations and budgets. As I recall “I don’t care… this is Lowell” was a refrain.

  2. dennis says:

    You know….its was very fast…gee…..getting the business started iron out….its needed to get thing moving along….special..fast fast….

  3. Jim says:

    None of the City Councilors seemed to put in any pre-work on this except Rourke who looked up Worcester. I can look up most of the things they asked in about 5 minutes on Google.