Champaign to start search for new city manager

CHAMPAIGN — City officials in the next week will begin the process for selecting a new city manager, and it's a duty they expect to take months.

They have a little more than five months to find someone new for the city's top administrative position. City Manager Steve Carter on Oct. 2 announced that he will retire at the end of March 2013.

That will cap a 28-year tenure for him as Champaign's city manager — a significantly long time considering that the average length of employment for his three predecessors was about nine years.

There's no definitive process for finding a new city manager — it's not something that officials are accustomed to doing after Carter held the position for so long. But the final decision, by law, rests in the hands of the city council.

"It's really completely dependent on them," City Attorney Fred Stavins said.

The decision will be an important one — in a memo to council members, the city manager is compared with the CEO of a corporation. The manager's hand is in every function of city government, from police, fire and public works to neighborhood services, planning and budgeting.

At this point, city council members say they think city staff can do most of the city manager recruitment in-house, rather that contracting with a search firm to do the work for tens of thousands of dollars.

Carter was hired in 1985 after the city council spent $12,000 on a consultant to recruit candidates for the job, according to city documents. City officials estimate that doing the same today could cost anywhere between $25,000 and $40,000.

Step one, Stavins said, will be defining a "position profile," or a job description and characteristics that the ideal candidate would possess.

Down the line, the city will need to figure out how to advertise the position, reach out to job candidates, select finalists, interview the finalists and, finally, negotiate a contract with the person whom they select.

City council members have said that they are interested in holding a public meeting — maybe several meetings — to talk about the position and developing a consensus on the profile. Council member Deborah Frank Feinen suggested that those meetings could be less formal than a city council meeting. Other council members suggested there should be ample opportunity for public input, maybe even a component on the city's website.

The "position profile" and the process for writing it has yet to be finalized, and it will be a topic of discussion during a city council meeting next week, Stavins said.

That is the first step a recruitment firm would have handled, but city council members last week agreed to do the work in-house. That also saves city officials about a month in time that it would take to find a recruiter.

"An outside person doesn't know our town the way we do," council member Marci Dodds said.

She said she was confident that the city council can work together on finding a quality city manager.

"Even though we may disagree on what we want, we can hash it out," Dodds said.

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parkmymeterelsewhere wrote on October 25, 2012 at 11:10 am

Why waste taxpayer's time for public input?  The taxpayer knows it has no direct involvement in the selection; the taxpayer knows the city manager has autocratric control of the council and all city policies to serve themselves.