Special Council Meeting on City Manager & Auditor Selection Process

The Lowell City Council held a special meeting tonight (March 3, 2014) to decide the next steps in the process of selecting a new city manager and a new city auditor.

Councilor Mercier opens by moving that a period of citizen comment be allowed prior to the interviews. Councilor Belanger seconds this and says while it is ultimately the council’s duty to select the city manager that many citizens are interested and involved and would like to share their ideas with the council. Councilor Samaras says he’d like to see a process similar to that used by the school committee when hiring a superintendent such as having the candidates meet with a selection of people from the community.

Other discussion involves whether or not this meeting is a public hearing and if yes does it have to be advertised (yes). They want “adequate notice” to the public through a “newspaper ad.” Applicant resumes will not be available to the public until councilors select finalists. Mayor Elliott selects each councilor submit up to ten names and the five candidates who have the most votes are interviewed. Councilor Martin says his memory is they selected five, not ten.

Motion is to place an advertisement in the newspaper of a public hearing that will be held after the councilors identify the finalists so that people will be allowed to speak prior to the interviews being held. There’s confusion about whether the public input will be done immediately before the interviews or on an earlier night. Leahy and Belanger both say it would be best to have the public input on one night and the interviews on a later night. Kennedy concurs. Mercier says that on the night the public provides its input is the night the clerk announces the initial tallies of candidates to determine who proceeds to the interview stage. She doesn’t want public input on the same night as the interviews.
This public hearing will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at 7 pm.

The next item is the process for paring down the applicant pool. Each councilor will submit the name of five applicants to the city clerk. He will tally which applicants get the most votes and the top five will be the finalists who will be interviewed. Rourke moves that each councilor submit five names to the city clerk no later than this Friday at 5pm and that the clerk tally the votes and that the five applicants who receive the most votes and communicate that to the members of the city council.

Next is the interview process. Prior practice was a 3 minute opening, each councilor asking a question with 5 minutes to answer and then a 3 minute closing. They decide to defer a decision on this.

Regarding the City Auditor position (of which there are 10 applicants) Councilor Rourke moves that councilors submit up to 4 names to the city clerk by close of business on this Friday and that the clerk tally the votes and disclose the 4 top candidates to the councilors. Councilor Martin suggests that the public be allowed to give input on the auditor position at next Wednesday’s public hearing. He also suggests that at the close of that public hearing that the councilors then select dates for the interviews of both positions.
Next is the appointment of an acting city auditor. Councilor Mercier moves that the council appoint Karen O’Beirne (who is the current number 2 person in the auditor’s office) to be the acting auditor. Motion passes unanimously.
Meeting adjourns at 5:47 pm.

8 Responses to Special Council Meeting on City Manager & Auditor Selection Process

  1. dennis b says:

    Thank god they got this started……..Richard howe….I was hoping you have your name in…..you will be a great manager…..but glad any way we are moving along to get this done,,,,,,

  2. Jen Myers says:

    I feel the Council missed the point of collecting input from the public. The intention of the people who were asking for there to be public input were asking to address the council I regards to what characteristics they would like to see in the next city manager. The public input should have been scheduled for before the councilors choose their personal top 5 so the councilors could take that input into account when reviewing the 29 resumes….not after.

  3. Ellen A. says:

    Hi Dick, great summary! The Sun article online this evening says the public hearing is this Wednesday the 5th… Before they make selections. Your post says the 12th. Not sure which is the correct date?

  4. DickH says:

    Ellen – the first date proposed for the public input session was this coming Monday but Councilor Belanger was going to be out of town so they switched to Wednesday – of next week. Not this Wednesday. I haven’t seen the Sun article and I know it’s hard to believe the Sun might have gotten it wrong, but it’s Wednesday, March 12 at 7pm.

  5. DickH says:

    Jen – You’re right. Here’s some background about citizen involvement in hiring top city officials: After George Tsapatsaris announced his retirement as superintendent of schools back in 1999, the school committee formed a big Blue Ribbon Committee of about 20 people (I was one of them and Michael Gallagher ended up as chair) to “assist” in the process. That committee reviewed resumes and interviewed finalists, then made recommendations to the school committee. Prior to that committee’s work, all the momentum was for a “local” candidate but that Blue Ribbon Committee which did everything openly and publicly came up with a very different recommendation and as a consequence “persuaded” the school committee to hire Karla Brooks-Baehr rather than a local person. The political class in Lowell (including the mainstream media and all who benefit from connections with the person in charge) was aghast that this citizen group had been able to, in their view, hijack the process. The lesson learned, the received wisdom if you will, of the Lowell political class is to never cede any meaningful authority to anyone outside the elected officials (school committee members or city councilors depending on the position being filled) in any part of the hiring process. Even though few in elected office in Lowell today make this connection, the Blue Ribbon Committee story is the root cause of the “citizen input as an afterthought” approach in the hiring process. (By the way, that Blue Ribbon Committee story will get a full chapter in my forthcoming book on Lowell politics).

  6. Joe S. says:

    Jen is correct, the input should be made before the field is winnowed by the councilors. The only way to influence this winnowing would be for residents to submit their criteria to the councilors in the next few days, with hope that those inputs would be considered by (at least some of) the councilors before they submit their votes on Friday.

  7. Gai says:

    Thank you. If this were an open process, the councilors would have the hearing prior to making up their minds. I would expect the12th to be the correct date, otherwise, the group that voted to bring back the crèche will have selected Ash Wednesday (a Christian observance) on the day to have the public hearing.
    Presumably anyone wishing to share their thoughts at the public hearing should register to speak?