The Cost of a Bad Hire, Take 2

Here we go again. I just wrote about this last week.

I don’t understand how Mayor Lane and Councilwoman Klapp could possibly think rushing to hire a new city manager is a good idea, let alone politically smart.

Here’s the latest from Councilman Bob Littlefield on this subject:

Dear Friends:

This morning the Scottsdale Republic printed my column “End city-manager turnover by eliminating hiring mistakes” which you may find interesting.

As they usually do with my material the Republic printed it on a Saturday (the least-read edition of the Scottsdale Republic) and did not make it available online.  So, for those of you who do not have access to the printed edition the column is reproduced below.

Councilman Bob Littlefield
602-228-9145 (mobile)

 Appointing a New City Manager

With the recent resignation of our latest City Manager, David Richert, the question is being asked, how can we reduce the turnover in that position?  The answer; recognize the mistakes of the past and don’t make them again.

Mistake #1 was trying to hire a City Manager with “vision.”  It is not the role of the City Manager to have a vision for Scottsdale. His role is to implement the vision of the residents as expressed through their elected representatives. Trying to impose a “vision” for Scottsdale on unwilling residents is exactly what got two of the last three City Managers in hot water.

The actual role of the City Manager is specified in the job title, which is to manage the city government. The vast majority of Scottsdale’s almost 2500 city employees report through the chain of command to the City Manager, who also oversees a $254M annual operating budget.

That’s a big job, one that requires lots of administrative skill and leadership. So, lesson #1 is, forget vision and look for management talent when hiring the next City Manager.

Mistake #2 was searching for a new City Manager while the interim City Manager was a candidate for the permanent job. When my Council colleagues appointed Richert as the interim City Manager I said publicly at the time that having him also be a candidate for the permanent job would discourage good applicants. They would conclude “the fix was in” for Richert and not bother to apply. Of course, this is exactly what happened.

Fortunately, this time around my Council colleagues agreed that was a bad idea and we appointed an interim City Manager with the clear understanding he will not be a candidate for the permanent job.

Mistake #3 is haste. I already hear voices saying we need to start looking for a permanent City Manager ASAP and hire one before the end of the year!  We have an election coming up in which we will have at least two and perhaps as many as four new Council members taking office in January.

With eleven candidates for Council and three candidates for Mayor it is far from clear who those new Council members will be.  No smart executive would take a job when he might have a very different set of bosses by the time he shows up for work!

The permanent replacement for Richert should be hired by the City Council that will oversee the new City Manager, not by the current City Council.

The folks who lobby for a City Manager with “vision” are actually trying to place a powerful but unelected advocate for their personal agenda in City Hall. These same people fear that you, the voters, who defeated the General Plan update in the March election, will elect a more resident-friendly City Council in the fall elections.

That’s why they want the current City Council to appoint a new City Manager, who they hope will be their (not the residents’) voice at City Hall. That would be a mistake for everyone involved.

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