2015-09-03 / Front Page

Councilors Switch Gears on Manager

By Barry Bridges

After spending much of this year working with an outside recruiting firm to identify and hire Newport’s next city manager, councilors announced on Tuesday, Sept. 1, that efforts so far have been unsuccessful and that a new search would begin through an in-house process.

A replacement is being sought for former City Manager Jane Howington, who tendered her resignation in June of 2014. Then-Solicitor Joseph Nicholson stepped into the position soon thereafter, agreeing to serve on an interim basis until the vacancy was filled.

In January, councilors contracted with Randi Frank Consulting, a one-person company out of Wallingford, Conn., to spearhead the recruiting. The hiring process continued through the spring and summer, but it was difficult to accurately measure the seeminglyslow progress because of internal deliberations and the confidential nature of personnel actions.

But at Tuesday’s brief meeting, the council confirmed what some observers were expecting to hear as it issued a statement:

“After using an outside consultant to conduct a thorough search for a new City Manager for New- port, the City Council did not reach a consensus from that applicant pool and has decided to move forward with a new search using the city’s in-house human resources department. Previous applicants are welcome to reapply within the context of the new search. The council is hopeful that the process moving forward will be approximately three months in length.”

Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano and Councilors Marco Camacho, Lynn Ceglie, John Florez, and Naomi Neville joined in a 5-to-1 vote (with Councilor Kathryn Leonard absent) to endorse the statement and proceed with soliciting for a fresh group of applicants.

Councilor Justin McLaughlin was the lone objector to the plan and was none-too-pleased with the turn of events. He was adamant that his colleagues were making the wrong decision, arguing that the candidates had not been fully discussed and that starting from scratch would sacrifice the efforts and resources already invested with the consultant.

“I think this is preposterous,” said McLaughlin. “It’s been 60 weeks since we knew we had to fill this position. We are not going about this in a way that reflects the importance of the task.”

He also wondered if Newport’s Human Resources Department could hit the ground running. “Are we going to give the HR director any guidance?” he queried. “It’s not even clear to me whether we agree if someone needs former city management experience. We’re talking about rebuilding from what we’ve already done.”

Responding to McLaughlin’s frustrations, Florez suggested that each councilor should immediately compile a set of values and skills to pass along to Human Resources Administrator Michael Coury. “He can get back to us with a list of final requirements and we can then refine it.”

Neville offered that Coury should also present a hiring schedule and a strategy for advertising the position. Florez concurred that a timeline was essential.

It was also agreed that councilors would review all resumes received in response to the eventual job posting. That would be contrary to the method used by Randi Frank Consulting, where the list of candidates was narrowed down to those judged to be the strongest prospects before being further vetted by city leaders.

McLaughlin added that the hope of having someone on board in three months was unrealistic. “It’s easy to say we’re going to have it done within 90 days, but many times there are constraints.”

Napolitano intimated that she wanted to move forward as quickly as possible, but rejected any implications that time had not been used wisely so far. “Remember that we didn’t start to interview until May. Part of the problem was that the old council wanted to wait until after the [November] elections. It hasn’t been going on for 60 weeks. And it may take more than three months [to complete the hire], but we all want the best candidate.”

She also thought that Human Resources would benefit from the research and work product that the consultant was expected to hand over.

As the meeting was wrapping up, Camacho commented on all of the work done by Nicholson since taking the job on a temporary basis last summer.

“Let’s be clear. We don’t have a leadership vacuum,” Camacho said. “Joe is doing exactly what we expect him to do as a council. We don’t want to get into the same problem we’ve had for decades. We chew up city managers here like sharks chew up baby seals. Any attempt to rush this would be detrimental to the process and to the public.”

With Nicholson willing to serve until a new manager is in place, Camacho said, “Joe has given us wide berth and I appreciate that.”

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