In less than two weeks, Killeen will have a city manager, for the first time in nearly a year.
With Tuesday’s surprise announcement that the City Council had agreed to hire former Corpus Christi City Manager Ron Olson, the city is preparing to do something it hasn’t done in 24 years — hand the administrative reins to an outsider.
The last three permanent city managers — David Blackburn, Connie Green and Glenn Morrison — were all hired from within the city staff. Likewise, Ann Farris and Dennis Baldwin, both of whom have served as interim city managers since Morrison retired in April, were moved into the top spot from within the city ranks.
The city hasn’t selected someone from outside for the city manager’s spot since Tal Buie was hired in 1993 after serving as Sherman’s top administrator.
Now the city will look to Olson, with 38 years of experience in city administration, to guide Killeen into the future.
If Olson’s name sounds familiar, it should.
The council reached a 4-3 consensus to hire Olson last fall, but the council’s top choice withdrew from consideration, citing concerns that he lacked enough council support.
Though the council subsequently voted to start over in its search for a city manager, members continued to work behind the scenes in an attempt to find common ground with their first choice, Olson.
When Olson arrived for a special closed session Tuesday, all the council had to do was hammer out the final details and reach a consensus on hiring. The final tally was 6-1 in favor of selecting Olson — for a second time.
Olson, 67, is scheduled to start work as soon as Feb. 8, and he will no doubt lean on Baldwin for assistance during the transition period — which could be anywhere from 60 to 120 days.
Baldwin deserves credit for moving the city forward during the past three months — identifying cost savings, restructuring city departments and getting an early start on the 2018 budget. He will no doubt be valuable in getting Olson up to speed.
His announcement last week that city officials had identified more than $5 million in funding to balance the 2017 and 2018 budgets puts Olson in a position to take over with a potential surplus rather than a deficit — which will give him more latitude in his decision making.
That said, however, Olson and the council must continue to move forward on initiatives to keep the city’s finances in the black.
One such initiative is the proposed outsourcing of the city’s trash service, which could lead to significant long-term savings to the city in the areas of equipment, payroll, insurance and fuel costs. The city must continue to seek a qualified company that can do the job well and also provide recycling service at reasonable rates — something residents deserve.
Another area is the continued restructuring of the city’s workforce to eliminate job redundancy.
Most importantly, Olson must ensure the city’s forensic audit remains a priority.
Just because the city is in better financial shape than it was when the council first agreed to pursue an audit, that doesn’t mean it is no longer needed. If anything, an audit is even more essential now, in order to identify past areas of concern and lay the groundwork for solid budget and financial practices moving forward.
With a new city auditor in place and a new city manager coming on board, now is the perfect time to proceed with a thorough, top-down forensic investigation — without interference from any City Hall insiders who could be impacted by its findings.
By all indications, Olson intends to take a proactive approach to the position. He has said he will place a high priority on transparency — something that has been sorely lacking in recent years. In Olson, the city is getting something else that’s been lacking of late: experience
It’s time to tackle the city’s challenges with a fresh approach — and fresh eyes.