2015-04-23 / Front Page

Manager Search Continues

Number of Applications Sluggish So Far
By Barry Bridges

With a submission deadline of Monday, April 27, not much time remains for applicants to express their interest in being Newport’s next city manager. But so far, a relatively lackluster number of resumes have been presented for consideration.

Randi Frank Consulting (RFC), the external recruiting company hired to identify competitive candidates to replace former City Manager Jane Howington after her departure last July, reported to councilors on Wednesday, April 15 that it had received 17 resumes so far and had been corresponding with an additional 10 who requested more information. RFC estimated in January that a response of about 30 resumes should be expected.

The final tally is undetermined since the cutoff is still a few days away, but if RFC’s prediction holds, applications will still trail the number that came in during Newport’s last two manager searches. Ninety resumes were submitted in 2005, and in 2012 there were 130.

For a comparison elsewhere, an ongoing administrator search in Portsmouth that used a similar re- cruitment process attracted about five dozen responses by its March 3 deadline. According to interim Portsmouth Administrator James Lathrop, there were 57 applicants, 16 of whom are not Rhode Islanders. One is from outside the country.

Third Ward Councilor Kathryn Leonard told Newport This Week that it’s hard to know why things seem to be slow out of the gate in this round. “There could be a number of reasons,” she said. “It could be the amount of money, but we need to remember that we have a very diverse community with a lot on our plate. That means that job seekers will need to have a varied skill set.”

At a briefing with councilors on Jan. 20, RFC’s Randi Frank observed, “We have found that in city manager searches, the responses are more about quality than quantity” and continued to say that her firm’s contacts and experience in the field would yield promising leads.

Candidates are asked to respond through an inviting position profile compiled by RFC together with the input of various stakeholders, including the community, gained through an information-gathering process. RFC interviewed city leaders and department heads to hear their views on the qualities that are most needed in the next municipal administrator. Additionally, a forum was held on March 15 to solicit comments from the public.

Once the profile was approved by councilors, the job was posted widely through professional organizations such as the International City/County Management Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Association. RFC has also used a direct email campaign to target qualified individuals. In its materials, the firm describes Newport as a place of “historic charm, world class sailing, and natural beauty” with a year-round population of 25,000 residents and 4 million annual visitors. “The city is a visual delight and the ocean and bay provide world class boating and swimming, making Newport a true destination town for visitors and residents alike.”

After spelling out the area’s undeniable charms, the description turns to the nitty-gritty of what the position would entail. Interim manager Joseph Nicholson said this week that it basically involves “running the business of the city” and pointed to Chapter V of the Charter for an outline of the expected job description.

Indeed, the RFC posting closely mimics the duties as described in the Charter, and specifies that the manager is the “chief administrative officer,” with varied executive duties such as enforcing ordinances, monitoring municipal contracts, sharing information on finances, preparing an annual budget (that in 2014-15 totaled almost $122 million), spearheading studies or investigations consistent with the city’s best interests, and attending council meetings.

The input that RFC received from Newporters is probably at least somewhat reflected in the “candidate characteristics” spelled out in the profile, and perhaps also speaks to the myriad municipal issues referenced by Leonard.

Along with the expected educational background in public policy and demonstrated management strengths, RFC posits that the successful applicant will be a “collaborative leader who builds coalitions and consensus with diverse groups such as neighborhood groups, the business community, foundations, military, and nonprofits.” The profile also emphasizes experience with infrastructure improvements, strategic plans, economic development, and "working with various stakeholders and regional partners.” Newport is seeking a “team builder and communicator” who is “able to work with the council.”

Assuming the final pool is deemed to be large enough, RFC will assess the qualifications and suitability of the contenders and narrow the field to 12 to 15 semi-finalists by mid-May for further consideration and vetting by councilors.

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