MONTROSE – After a long and sometimes contentious meeting, members of the Montrose City Council eventually came to terms and revised the final process for finding a new city manager.
At a special meeting called last Thursday, two members of council, Thomas Smits and Bill Patterson, objected to the way the final negotiations had been handled. Smits said an offer was made to the top candidate without his knowledge.
“The candidate knew before I did,” he said after the meeting.
The other three members of the council, Mayor Kathy Ellis, Gail Marvel and Carol McDermott, all wanted to go into executive session to discuss the matter to protect the identity of the top three finalists. But the men refused to vote in favor of a closed meeting because Smits said salary negotiations should be discussed in public. With only five members on the council, they couldn’t get the two-thirds majority to close the meeting to the public.
In the end, after almost three hours of discussion, council agreed to identify the candidates only as A, B and C and set up individual offers to each, to be proffered by City Attorney Russell Duree.
A previous candidate, to whom an offer was made by an executive search consultant hired by the city, was offered the top of the scale, $125,000, but the candidate, no longer in the running, wanted more and was taken off the list. The council had previously decided on a range of annual salary from $105,000 to $125,000.
Patterson said he’s hired many people and that’s not the right approach, and the city shouldn’t offer top dollar on the initial offer.
Smits complained the $125,000 offer didn’t include benefits, which could add another $40,000 to the city’s cost for the manager’s total package.
When Ellis and McDermott both questioned his math, and he reminded them that he had been a banker for 15 years.
“But you’re a mortgage banker,” McDermott commented.
Ellis defended the offer.
“Say we put together a package and give it to the first candidate, we would not be willing to offer it to the second choice,” she said.
“We’re beyond that,” he said. “We should make offers and see the responses we get back. If you’re going to end up upping the package higher than the budget, then we need to decide where to take the money from.”
According to City Clerk Lisa DelPiccolo, after further discussion, the council went into executive session at about 7 p.m.
After about a half hour in closed session, the council voted unanimously to have Duree, instead of the search consultant, make individual offers to the top three candidates, she said.
“The city attorney is notifying them one at a time, and it will be a best and final offer,” she said, indicating that the city would not negotiate its offer.
McDermott said after the meeting that she was not in favor of making the offers as “best and final.”
“I was concerned that because this is all held on openness, it wasn’t really a negotiation,” she said. “To me, if it’s a negotiation, we don’t need to be locked into best and final.”
Despite the long and at times tense meeting, Smits said later that it all worked out fine.
“The outcome and the process worked well,” he said. “We were able to discuss contract details in open and move forward from there.”
The applicants will have 48 hours to reply, Smits said, which means that a new city manager could be hired fairly soon.
Smits said he agreed that the applicants should be discussed in private, but not the financial considerations.
“I just think it’s definitely appropriate to talk about individual candidates in private, but the contract will eventually be made public, and I wanted the public involved from the beginning,” he said. “I think it’s best to be open because when you are open, you get feedback from those you actually serve.”