News is starting to trickle out of City Hall on the city manager selection process.
On Wednesday, the names of two of the finalists were released. Acting City Manager Mike Jackson and Michael Wilson, the director of the consulting firm Municipal Management Services of Gig Harbor, are confirmed as contenders for the job.
Jackson had been serving as the deputy city manager to David Mercier, who was asked to resign as the city’s top administrator on Jan. 5.
The decision to release the two finalists’ names came while the council met behind closed doors after Tuesday evening’s study session.
On Wednesday, Human Resources Manager John Whitehead said the council may still be considering other candidates, and those names might come forward later. The council will hold another closed executive session “to evaluate qualifications of applicants for public employment” at 5 p.m. next Tuesday.
After that session, during the 6 p.m. regular meeting, Whitehead said the council is expected to say what its next move is.
However, at least one name that has been heavily rumored to be among the finalists can be crossed off the list: Chuck Hafner’s.
Last week, the retired Central Valley School District administrator – and organizer of the “Positive Change” community group that championed a winning majority in last fall’s council’s election – said he “hadn’t even applied” for the job.
“I was asked to do that,” he said. “But I said, ‘No, I’m too old,’” Hafner said.
Hafner – who can often be seen attending the council meetings, including a daylong budget retreat on July 13 – added that he is anxious as anyone else to find out whom the finalists might be.
“I’m getting kind of the same story as anyone else,” he said. “Whomever they select, I hope he has an extensive accounting background.”
He also said he told his friend and Council Member Bob McCaslin – the state senator who represents the 4th District and who Hafner requested run for office when no one looked to be challenging Rich Munson for his council seat last year – that “people are going to want to know” who the candidates are.
On Monday, Mayor Tom Towey said the council is waiting for signed waivers to be returned from the finalists that will allow the city to release each of their names to the public. While Wilson and Jackson have done so, the council, however, could legally release that information at any time.
“I’m very pleased with the process,” Towey said, adding that the city would not even release the number of job seekers being evaluated. “When we get (the waivers) back, we can get the information out.”
A total of 26 applied for the job. During a break during the budget retreat on July 13, McCaslin was overheard asking Human Resources Manager John Whitehead how long interviews would take the following day. Whitehead confirmed they would take about an hour each, and the council met from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 14.
Towey said it “wasn’t one person’s opinion” on the level of secrecy that’s being maintained in the selection process.
“I’ll go in the direction that the council says,” he said. “There are pros and cons on both sides of the issue.”
Towey was also asked Monday whether the council would consider following the same format that was followed when Mercier was hired. Towey said he isn’t sure he “sees the benefit” of a public meet-and-greet open house with final candidates for the job.
In April 2003, Mercier and four other finalists met nearly 100 community residents at a reception held on a Saturday morning at Spokane Valley City Hall. All of those candidates, whose names were released days earlier, had done some type of public administration work and held master’s degrees.
The following Tuesday, the candidates qualifications were discussed. A week later, Mercier was hired.
Under the city’s council/manager form of government, the city manager is hired by the council and is charged with running the day-to-day operations of the city. The city manager is also responsible for hiring and firing staff members.
The mayor said he is “very impressed” with the qualifications of the candidates.
“We’re taking every precaution,” Towey said. “It’s a big position for our city. We want the right person and the right fit.”