For the Killeen City Council, it’s back to the drawing board.
Two days after the council named former Ron Olson as the lone finalist for the Killeen city manager position, Olson withdrew from consideration Thursday.
Olson, a former Corpus Christi city manager, cited a lack of council support as his reason for declining to enter contract negotiations with Killeen.
So that leaves the council three options — try to convince Olson to reconsider, interview others from the original candidate pool or start an entirely new search process.
Enticing Olson to change his mind seems unlikely, as he has applied for several other municipal posts in addition to Killeen. Interviewing others from the pool may be a waste of time, especially if the search firm has already presented the council with its best applicants. If a new search is the option chosen, it won’t come cheap. The current search by Keller-based Strategic Resource Group cost the city $27,000. That would be money down the drain if the city starts over with another firm.
With Olson out of the picture, it could be several months before Killeen hires a new city manager.
That leaves the city in the hands of interim City Manager Dennis Baldwin, who was appointed to the position after the council removed former Assistant City Manager Ann Farris from the role Oct. 4.
Baldwin took over the post with the understanding that the city likely would have a permanent city manager in place before the end of the year.
Nevertheless, he hit the ground running, with an activist mindset. In his first three weeks on the job, Baldwin launched a wide-ranging reorganization of the city’s management structure, including eliminating the director of support services role held by Stu McLennan. He also initiated an overhaul of the Killeen Police Department, where he had served as chief for 12 years prior to his recent appointment. In addition, he presented a plan for transferring operations of City Hall to the Arts and Activities Center — a move that would displace some of the facility’s current occupants.
And just last week, Baldwin chose a new fire chief, naming the interim fire chief to the position — though Farris had previously said the appointment should be left up to the next city manager.
With such a hands-on approach, it would appear that Baldwin is trying to place his stamp on the city — either to lay the groundwork for a new city manager, or to position himself for the deputy city manager’s post, currently held by Farris.
While many of Baldwin’s initiatives have been well-received by the council — particularly his emphasis on realizing cost savings in city operations — council members should keep their focus on finding an outside candidate for the city manager’s job.
Killeen needs someone who has city management experience and can bring a fresh perspective to the city’s unique challenges.
More importantly, as the city proceeds with its forensic audit, the council must bring in a city manager who has no connection with Killeen’s current financial problems.
As chief of a police department that accounted for more than one-third of the city’s budget during the time frame of the proposed audit, Baldwin lacks the objectivity that should be called for in the city’s top administrator.
While the latest development in Killeen’s city manager search may be disheartening to some council members, they should view this as an opportunity to start fresh, with a new set of parameters.
Farris signed the contract with the current search firm, but the council wasn’t involved in shaping its specific content.
This time, the council must set the terms and scope of the search from the outset, specify the qualities and experience they are seeking in prospective candidates and involve the public more in the selection process.
Going back to square one isn’t such a bad thing, if restarting the process yields the right person to lead the city into the future.