Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the Killeen City Council’s closed session interviews with city manager candidates is that there is no news.
No decision was made Saturday after about 3½ hours of interviews and about an hour of deliberating, Mayor Jose Segarra confirmed. At least officially, the running is still wide open for all three candidates — or possibly more.
Segarra didn’t rule out going back into the pool of applicants to find new candidates.
“We’re still undecided on that,” he said in a brief interview after the session Saturday. “There was a lot of discussion about it.”
On Friday, the three candidates — Daniel Biles, J.J. Murphy and Ron Olson — were interviewed in front of the public by a citizens advisory committee. Each was asked the same questions from a prepared list, and each was limited to two minutes per answer. That proved tough for the candidates in some instances, because many questions had multiple parts.
Despite the difficulty in the format, the questions asked were not too hard-hitting. Most focused on management style or past experiences.
Segarra said things were different Saturday.
“I think the council did a good job, and I told them that. I think their questions weren’t questions that were in the book,” Segarra said. “They answered a lot of those hard questions, and they did ask a lot of that. That’s the bulk of it.”
“We want someone that is ethical, honest — and I think that’s kind of where a lot of the questions were leading today,” Segarra said, adding that a lot questions were about character.
Over the past few days, red flags were raised about finalists. Murphy’s past dealings have been heavily scrutinized. While serving as city manager in Hobbs, N.M., he had championed two city contracts the New Mexico state auditor’s office said raise “the appearance that the contracts may not have been at arm’s length.” A federal grand jury looked into his business dealings after he resigned as the Wilkes-Barre, Pa., city manager, and a 2012 agreement between Murphy’s consulting group, Goals Consulting, and the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority to aid in a leasing contract was subpoenaed as part of a widespread corruption probe into the city.
Olson is the former city manager of Corpus Christi. The city’s water system has had a series of problems over the past two years that ultimately led to Olson’s resignation from his post. The city was expected to pay more than $500,000 in corrective requirements and an additional $6,000 in penalties. Under Olson’s watch, the city issued three boil orders, in July and September 2015, and in May.
Biles has no recognizable red flags, aside from his limited experience in city management.
Segarra said the council addressed red-flag issues.
“Nobody battled or anything like that, but they really got in-depth with the candidates, and, hopefully, we’ll be able to make a selection soon,” he said. “I think they did an awesome job today. I was really impressed.”
The next step of the process is in the hands of Strategic Government Resources, which the city hired to find city manager candidates. Segarra and the council have provided SGR’s Mike Tanner — who was present for both interview sessions — with a list of questions the council wants answered.
The firm will have to provide those answers before the City Council can take its next step. That might happen as soon as Tuesday, when the city manager search is listed as a discussion item on the council’s workshop agenda. Councilmen Jim Kilpatrick and Juan Rivera were unable to attend Saturday’s meeting. Both were at funerals for family members.
If Tanner has the time, he might be at Tuesday’s meeting, Segarra said, but the evaluation process is still ongoing.
SGR was awarded a contract in June to conduct the search. Former interim city manager Ann Farris signed that contract, which stated that total cost would not exceed $27,000.
The SGR search process proved to be flawed, though. The firm failed to notify council members of any of the red flags that had popped up, even those that could be found with a simple Google search.
Shortly after being named as one of the five finalists, Andy Bird withdrew from the running. Not long after, Steve Norwood, who was fired as the El Paso city manager because of attendance issues, withdrew from the running without explanation. While there originally appeared to be a healthy number of options, the pool quickly shrank without warning.
The council’s portion of the candidate vetting process also drew criticism. The council put mostly insiders on its residents committee to interview candidates.
The committee’s public interviews were held at 1:30 p.m. Friday, when many residents were at work. If residents had been free, not many would have fit into the room with the city employees who attended. The sessions were in a cramped 40-seat room at the Stonecreek Golf Course.
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