2015-09-24 / Front Page

Manager Search Revived

By Tom Walsh

The Newport City Council informally agreed on Wednesday, Sept. 23, to hire a permanent city manager by year’s end and each member agreed to name a candidate for a seven-member screening committee by week’s end.

Councilors also instructed Michael J. Coury, the city's human resources administrator, to advertise the opening for 45 days and said they hoped the ad would begin running with an emphasis on electronic media by the beginning of October.

Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said during the nearly hour-long special meeting that she hoped a new manager would be in place by the end of the year.

“I think that’s a reasonable timeline,” she said. Asked whether she could foresee any impediments to that goal, the mayor replied, “I re- ally don’t. We’re all very committed to move forward.”

Councilor Justin S. McLaughlin said, “I would like to have a resolution to this by year’s end.”

The city manager’s position was left vacant when its former occupant, Jane Howington, resigned in June of 2014. Since then, the manager’s position has been filled on an interim basis by former City Solicitor Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. The task of replacing Howington may have been delayed by the November 2014 elections. The current council was seated last January.

After hiring a Connecticut-based recruiting firm, Randi Frank Consulting, the council was unable to agree on a new manager from the talent pool presented. The process led by the consulting firm seemed to go slowly, although it was impossible to determine why that was the case, because deliberations were not public and personnel actions are routinely kept confidential.

Wednesday’s meeting marked the start of a new effort to find and hire a permanent city manager.

“Believe in the process,” Coury advised the councilors. “It will yield a good candidate if you let the process work.” He said the successful candidate will be a person who can “fit into our culture.” And, the human resources administrator added, “The best interest of the community is what we’re looking for.”

With the city having already gone through the process unsuccessfully with an out-of-state consulting firm, Coury declared, “We’re right in City Hall, we’re right there for you.” Coury urged the councilors to respect the confidential nature of finding and hiring a new manager. “No confidential information will be released to the press,” he declared.

Some council members seemed to favorably view the strategy of using a screening committee.

“I like this screening process,” Napolitano said. “We are all busy not just with careers but with many meetings we attend in the community. The screening process eliminates those who don’t seem to follow what we want.”

McLaughlin added, “The screening committee is an important thing. That committee could identify some perspectives we may not see. The critical thing is telling them what we want. What are we looking for? It’s important that we get people from the community for their insights.”

Others, however, were not so sure.

“I’m all for citizen communication,” said Councilor John F. Florez. “But I’m not sure how I feel about members of the public being involved.” Florez said selecting a new city manager and screening candidates for the job is “solely” the City Council’s responsibility. “It becomes more challenging if we add that extra layer,” he said.

The council seemed to settle on 45 days for advertisements to attract a new round of city manager candidates, although no formal votes were taken at the meeting. Councilors were told that it was not unusual to leave advertisements in place until a position is filled.

“We live in a world of Google,” McLaughlin told his peers. “People are going to do their own research. We want to make sure that we emphasize what’s important.”

Finally, the council discussed whether Newport’s next city manager needs to have previous experience in a similar job. While there was no consensus on that topic, Third Ward Councilor Kathryn E. Leonard had this to say: “It’s important to say what we want. I don’t necessarily feel that city manager experience is necessary. There may be CEOs or others with the right experience.”

“I agree with Kate 100 percent,” declared Florez.

“We may have just opened Pandora’s box,” offered McLaughlin, who asked whether they were searching for “someone with experience who knows how to run a city.” He quickly added, though, that he was “not saying we put an ad in the Wall Street Journal looking for an unemployed CEO.”

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