Coon Rapids sets city manager hiring timeline

A timeline for hiring a new city manager has been put in place by the Coon Rapids City Council.

At the request of the council, Matt Fulton resigned as city manager July 18 after six years on the job. The council accepted the resignation and approved a separation agreement with Fulton at a special meeting July 23.

At a work session Aug. 1, the council met with staff department heads to discuss not only the new city manager selection process and timeline, but also whether to go outside the city for an interim city manager during the selection process.

The council came to a consensus on three decisions:

• A selection process timeline would have the current council choose a new city manager before the end of the year.

• Requests for proposal would be sent to four Twin  Cities-based executive search firms to assist the council in the selection process.

• Public Services Director Steve Gatlin, who was named acting city manager in the wake of Fulton’s resignation, will remain in that role until a new city manager comes on board. No interim city manager will be hired.

Under the proposed timeline presented to the council, the advertising and recruitment of candidates would begin in late September once an executive search firm has been hired and has worked with the council to prepare a candidate profile and job description.

From mid-October when applications would be due to early November, the applications would be screened and candidates selected for interview.

The first set of interview would take place between Nov. 12-23, with final interviews and selection in the Nov. 26-Dec. 7 timeframe.

The goal would then be to make an offer and negotiate a contract with the chosen person in December with a start date in January/February 2013.

Most of the discussion on the timeline centered on whether the council should start the selection process now, but wait until the new year when at least two new members will join the council – Councilmembers Melissa Larson and Scott Schulte are not seeking re-election – before interviewing the finalists.

However, that would move the search process back some 60 days.

Initially, there was some sentiment to move in that direction, but that changed after comments from Larson and Councilmember Jerry Koch.

Larson, who was elected four years ago, and Koch, who was appointed to the council to fill a Ward 4 vacancy last year, both said they would not have had the experience to pass judgment on hiring a new city manager when they first joined the council.

As a lame duck who would not be serving on the council starting in January 2013, Schulte said he was more than willing to make the decision on the new city manager if that was the wish of the council, but it would be the new councilmembers who would be working with the new city manager for at least four years.

“The next person in this seat might have a different perspective than me,” he said.

But Councilmember Bruce Sanders said the sooner the council gets a new city manager in place the better.

According to Koch, if he had had to interview city manager candidates when he first joined the council, he would not have known what to look for and how to respond.

There is merit to both sides of the question, said Mayor Tim Howe.

“It would be a lot of responsibility to put on someone just coming in,” Larson  said.

Howe valued the experience of the present council, he said.

The council consensus was to have the current council conduct the interviews and make the choice, but the newly-elected councilmembers who would be known at the time of the interviews would be invited to be part of the process.

To help the council in the search process, staff presented a list of executive search firms and after some discussion, the consensus was to send requests for proposal for four Twin Cities firms, rather than go outside the state.

Those companies are MDA Consulting Group, Minneapolis; Personnel Decisions, Inc., Minneapolis; Springsted, St. Paul; and Brimeyer Fursman, Maplewood.

The council wanted the RFP to include the cost of providing the service as well as the name of the person from each firm who would be working with the council.

From the responses, the council will decide which ones to interview with the goal of having an executive search firm in place by the end of this month.

Howe did not think the city would have any problem attracting top class city manager candidates, he said.

“Coon Rapids with its stability is held in high regard by the city manager community,” Howe said.

There is a lot “of hunger for a position of this stature,” according to Assistant City Manager Matt Stemwedel.

When Gatlin was named acting city manager by the council July 23, there was some talk about bringing in an interim city manager.

Information provided to the council by staff had an Oct. 1 start date for an interim city manager penciled in as a possibility, as well as a list of potential candidates.

But after talking with Gatlin and staff department heads, the council unanimously concluded that Gatlin and the staff management team can handle the duties until a new permanent city manager arrives.

There is a lot of experience on city staff and he was confident they could handle the job with Gatlin at the helm, according to Howe.

Gatlin provided the council with a 2012 work plan high priority projects list, which indicates the department to which each project has been assigned as well as the percentage of completion.

The council agreed that some of the activities in which Fulton was involved as city manager should be put on hold until his successor is on board since that person might have some different ideas on how to proceed.

Gatlin raised the issue of a potential park bond referendum in the spring of 2003 as not being feasible to pursue because it would be very time consuming.

Howe agreed and from the results of the recent community survey and comments at the council’s Summer in the City events, residents seem happy with the current park system, he said.

“I see no urgency,” Howe said.

But the council did want Gatlin to let it know if staff was running into any problems.

“We don’t want everyone to become overburdened,” Howe said.

“I think having Steve as acting city manager will make life easier.”

A temporary contract for Gatlin that would increase his pay for assuming acting city manager duties will be brought before the council for action.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]