Ann Farris says she has high expectations as she starts her new job.
In a meeting with Herald editors on her first day as Killeen’s interim city manager, Farris promised she would operate with integrity and consistency.
Certainly, Killeen’s residents expect and deserve as much.
But residents also deserve a quick transition to a new, permanent city manager — and that may not be forthcoming.
Farris said she envisioned the city “casting a wide net” in searching for a new top administrator, with the entire process taking up to a year.
The city staff has gotten the ball rolling, contacting several municipalities, securing lists of search firms from various entities and drafting a request for proposal to solicit bids from executive search firms. That RFP will be posted for four weeks, after which the staff will make a recommendation to the City Council.
Hopefully, the search firm chosen will produce several qualified candidates with strong backgrounds as city managers — something Farris readily admits she does not possess.
Indeed, while Farris is a skilled administrator with a long history serving the Killeen Independent School District, her time with the city has been relatively brief. She was hired as the assistant city manager for internal services in January 2013.
For now, Farris must oversee a staff that has no assistant city managers, as well as several department heads who are used to dealing with former City Manager Glenn Morrison, who retired last week — a significant challenge.
Over the past year, many of the city’s policies and procedures have come under scrutiny by several council members as well as the media — ranging from reporting of budget numbers to transparency of city operations.
During her visit to the Herald, Farris was quick to say that she would consider new ways of looking at things. That’s a welcome statement.
However, many of her answers regarding her commitment to better transparency gave the impression that her administration may lean toward keeping the status quo.
Regarding ongoing Freedom of Information requests, Farris would not offer to facilitate easier access to the requested information, rather suggesting the Herald “just keep doing what you’re doing.”
On the topic of media access to department heads, Farris listened to editors’ concerns that the current process of funneling all information through the city’s public information director is inefficient and cumbersome, but ultimately explained it was city policy.
True, but that policy — which Farris characterized as the result of a “circle the wagons mentality” — was instituted by the previous city manager and can just as easily be revised or rescinded by the current top administrator.
Farris said she is not seeking the city manager’s post on a permanent basis. The lifelong area resident noted she does not live inside the city limits, as required under the city charter. Asked if her residency is the only reason she won’t seek the post, she replied, “It’s the best reason.”
Residency aside, Farris wouldn’t appear to be a good fit for the position, long-term, because of her lack of experience in the area of finance, though she oversaw the city’s finance department in her ACM position.
Finally, Farris acknowledged that being “from here” has its pluses and minuses.
Indeed, while extensive familiarity with Killeen has significant value, it also serves as a reminder of the insider network that has governed the city in the past and led to many of the current problems.
Prior to accepting the assistant city manager job, Farris taught a leadership course at Texas A&M University-Central Texas. She said she applied for the city job to put those leadership skills to work — skills that will be tested in the coming months.
Hopefully, Farris will lead the city with integrity and openness during her tenure.
But ultimately, Killeen will need new leadership — and a new direction — if the city is to thrive.