PDT Staff Writer
Portsmouth City Council has decided to name itself to the remaining positions on a board to go through the screening process to find a City Manager.
On Jan. 1, 2014, Portsmouth will officially change to a Council/City Manager form of government, scrapping the strong mayor form of government that has been operating the city for the last several years. In recent weeks, First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson has been attempting to get the attention of the other members of Portsmouth City Council to begin the process of searching for the person to fill that position.
At a previous Council meeting Johnson announced he had selected four members of the committee and identified them as John Carey, former state senator, now Assistant to the President for Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives at Shawnee State University; Vicki Noel, Vice President of Human Relations and Organizational Development at Southern Ohio Medical Center; Jerry Schneider, Public Affairs/Senior Manager and Fluor-B&W Portsmouth LLC, and Laura Walker, former Internal Revenue Service agent, former Co-President of Habitat for Humanity and treasurer for the Martin Luther King Scholarship Committee.
Johnson then asked the other five members of Council to name five additional people to the committee. At Monday night’s Portsmouth City Council meeting, Council decided they would round out that committee themselves.
Council discussed a document Johnson had presented to them from the International City Managers Association (ICMA) which laid out recommendations for guidelines for hiring a city manager, including a job description, and qualifications.
“We need to move forward as quickly as possible,” Johnson said. “Because now we are down to 14 months. I know that sounds like a long time. But when you’re doing a search for the type of person we would like to have that’s not a long time at all. There’s a lot we need to do up front, even lay the ground work for the first ad in the search.”
President of Council John Haas brought up the point that he did not think Council should abdicate its responsibility to deal with the screening process and the actual hiring. Johnson again reminded Council the committee was just making recommendations and that it would be Council who would make the final decision on who would be hired.
“The concern I have with committees is the more people the more input the slower things move,” Third Ward Councilman Nick Basham said. “I don’t see why we, as Council, couldn’t have a few work sessions, like we do when we work on the budget, to go through this (ICMA), because it really is step by step, decide what we want our city manager to do for the city of Portsmouth, because when there’s complaints, they’re going to come straight to us now. When it comes time to look at resume’s I want people in the field with experience, because what looks good on paper isn’t always good in person.”
Sixth Ward Councilman Steve Sturgill continued to contend that Portsmouth voters did not know all of the facts when they voted to change to a Council/City Manager form of government.
“If the people of this city had any idea what our financial situation is, what this is gonna cost, I guarantee you today that I could run a campaign to defeat that easily,” Sturgill said.
“I think the citizens of Portsmouth knew what was going on,” Haas said. “They know what the deficit problem is here. I don’t think it had anything to do with the public not knowing what was going on here. There was a question on the ballot, do you want to go back to a city manager or do you want to keep the mayor form of government. I think the public just wanted a change.”
“I respectfully disagree,” Sturgill said.
“I think sometimes we give very little credit to our citizens,” Third Ward Councilman Rich Saddler said. “The people in this great city they do know what’s going on.”
In the end, as a compromise, Council decided that in addition to the four committee members selected by Johnson, each one of the Council members would also be a part of the committee. That legislation will be brought to the table at the next scheduled City Council meeting.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org