Lieb: Residents need to be kept in the loop in hiring of a city manager

By Gene LiebNovember 15, 2012 

The City Council has known since February that former City Manager Steve Rath was going to retire at the end of October, and still there's no permanent replacement.

Mayor Mike Villalta refuses to answer any questions about the delay and the other council members defer to him on the subject.

His "No comment" reply is quickly followed by, "I feel that I am not at liberty to divulge that information without direction from our attorney and our recruiter."

The City Council hired Los Angeles-based Teri Black & Co. for up to $26,000 to recruit candidates to fill the position. Teri Black-Brann met with council members in May to finalize the characteristics they were looking for in a city manager. The recruiter provided a timeline that showed the city should be able to hire a city manager by late August.

In June, the council created a survey on the city's website, soliciting comments from the public as to what residents would like to see in a new city manager. The survey was online until late August.

The recruiter chose a handful of qualified applicants. The Enterprise quoted Villalta on Aug. 31 as saying, "The City Council is considering several qualified candidates and will begin interviews in September."

The timeline from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31 is fuzzy at best. In late October, it was announced that Los Banos Police Chief Gary Brizzee would take over as interim city manager effective Nov. 1.

What happened to the timeline of hiring a city manager?

Council members had roughly seven months to find a replacement and did not meet the deadline.

When asked Wednesday afternoon, Villalta referred to his statements that he made in the Oct. 19 Enterprise story where he says, "It was most unfortunate that Mr. Sousa was unable to attend the final round of applicant interviews."

Wednesday he elaborated by saying, "We had a specified timeline that we followed over those months. And the timeline was being met up until the final interview. There was another interview that was going to take place. And it did not because at that time Councilman (Joe) Sousa was not able to attend and then the rescheduling process then adhered too closely to the election.

"So it was decided to postpone the interview process until after the election."

When asked who gave the advice to postpone, Villalta said, "It was advice from our recruiter."

Councilman Sousa said in the Oct. 19 Enterprise story that the hiring process had whittled more than 40 applicants down to "two or three."

When asked Wednesday afternoon about the number of applicants or the number interviewed, Villalta said that much of the process is conducted in closed session and "I feel that I am not at liberty to divulge that information without direction from our attorney and our recruiter."

The election is now over and the county registrar's office should certify the election results soon. We would hope that the new council can come together and hire a city manager soon.

The question could come down to cost. How much will it cost city residents? Another $26,000 or more? Will the recruiter, Teri Black & Co., be asked to continue helping in the process?

When asked about the recruiter, Villalta said, "She is currently involved in the process we started months ago."

And when asked about money for the recruiter Villalta said, "We haven't had that discussion yet and I don't know if additional funds will be needed at this time or not."

Will the new council members be satisfied with the applicants identified by the previous council? Or, will they want to begin the search again? Are the best applicants still around, or have they been snatched up for other positions? On Wednesday, Villalta didn't have an answer for those questions.

Villalta was asked when the discussion of finding a new city manager would be addressed publicly.

His reply, "At this time, I can't give you a timeline. It will happen when it happens."

The public needs to be kept informed about the hiring process, which has not been the case thus far. The elected stewards of our city must understand Los Banos needs a full-time manager at its helm.

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