The Killeen City Council is apparently moving ahead on a new city manager search, but there’s much to be done before a new top executive is in place.
Barring a change of heart by former Corpus Christi City Manager Ron Olson — the council’s first choice for the position, who withdrew from consideration — the city will be starting over with the current search firm. In doing so, the council will be committing to a time line that may not yield a new city manager until May.
That’s problematic, for several reasons.
First, it leaves the city in an extended period of uncertainty, with interim City Manager Dennis Baldwin filling in for upwards of six months, when many originally had anticipated a six-week transition.
That leaves the question of what role Baldwin should play in the weeks and months ahead. Since his appointment in early October, he has proposed several ambitious initiatives, including a restructuring of the city’s administration, reshaping the police department — which he oversaw for 12 years before assuming his current post — and a plan to shift operations at City Hall to the city’s Arts and Activities Center.
If Baldwin is inclined to pursue further large-scale initiatives, it must be with the understanding that those actions could conflict with the strategies of the person eventually chosen for the post.
Another problem with an extended search is that the clock is ticking on the city’s 2018 budget.
After the protracted and contentious budget process that played out this summer under former interim City Manager Ann Farris, the council has taken a more proactive approach to closing the anticipated revenue gap in the coming fiscal year — an approach Baldwin has adopted as well.
However, under the current search timeline, a new city manager would arrive just as the budget process kicks into high gear, which could lead to a conflict in budget strategies and management styles. Obviously, that’s something the council would have to consider during the interview process.
The search timeline also means the current council may be doing the hiring, but not all members may have a chance to work with the person chosen for the job.
That’s because municipal elections take place in May, at which time four district council seats will be up for election.
Council members Shirley Fleming, Richard “Dick” Young, Jim Kilpatrick and Mayor Pro Tem Brockley Moore will all see their current terms come to an end. If any of them lose their re-election bids or choose not to seek another term, the new city manager will start a job working under some people he or she is unfamiliar with. That’s far from an ideal situation for a new administrator.
Finally, a quick hire is critical with respect to Killeen’s forensic audit. It’s imperative that the city have someone in place who can be aggressive about advancing the audit process, ensuring its integrity and keeping the issue a top priority.
Ultimately, Killeen has too much at stake to accommodate a leisurely timeline for a new city manager search.
If the city’s current search firm, Keller-based Strategic Government Resources, can’t work with the council to produce a new group of finalists within three months, the council should look to another company to get the job done.
Despite the council’s agreement last week on a new process that would identify 10 semifinalists by January and then vet them for the job, some council members were hesitant to continue the agreement with SGR. They had a right to be. Many of the candidates SGR presented as finalists lacked experience and had red flags in their work history.
True, starting from scratch would mean spending more than the $27,000 already invested in SGR, but it may be time to look to a company that can work more quickly — and deliver stronger candidates.
It’s a small price to pay when investing in the city’s future.