Archive for Thursday, December 20, 2001

City administrator search might get expert help

December 20, 2001

When the city of Eudora begins the search for a city administrator, it could get some help from the Kansas League of Municipalities, which has helped about 30 cities in the state fill high-level municipal positions since 1997.

At the Dec. 10 city council meeting Mayor Ron Conner said he would look into what the league had to offer Eudora in its search and report back to the council at the Dec. 27 meeting. Conner said he wanted to nail down a job description for an administrator.

League training coordinator Mark Tomb said the league's procedure dictated city administrators could have a wide degree of job responsibility.

"In a lot of situations they can be very strong leaders, very close to what a city manager would be like," he said. "In other situations they're closer to what a city clerk would be like."

Generally, a city manager and city administrator's job descriptions differ, Tomb said. A city manager by state statute has certain authority, like managing staff on a day-to-day basis and the power to hire and fire employees. While a city administrator can do these things, he or she must have those powers granted by the city council. Most city administrators handle day-to-day operations of the local government, like making sure items are on the city council agenda.

To find out exactly what a city wants, however, the league surveys the city council. Based on the surveys, the league crafts a job description and devises an advertising plan that can include placing ads in professional journals, state and local publications, and Kansas government journals.

"There's also magazines for city managers to get a pretty captive audience," Tomb said.

Applicants send their resumes to the league, which ranks them based on the characteristics the city said it was looking for.

"The cities make all the choices," Tomb said. "We do narrow the pool."

That can be a big help to cities, he said.

"Any kind of job like this you'll get people who maybe don't have the experience."

The time it takes to conduct a search varies from community to community. If a city's administrator just turned in a two-week notice, the process might be sped up a little.

"In a situation like Eudora where they've not had a city administrator, they could probably last," Tomb said. "It wouldn't be as much of a rush."

Postponing a decision can pay off, Tomb said.

"The key is you want it built in to let the advertising work for you," he said.

On the average, he estimated a search took two to two-and-a-half months from start to an offer of employment to an applicant.

Another service the league offers is running a comparison of city administrator salaries in cities of comparable size, tax base and number of employees.

"A service (like) that would be of value to a city like Eudora," he said. "It's tough going right in from the start and not knowing what somebody is going to be paid."

The league can offer prices competitive with private firms like the Par Group and Mercer Group, which usually service larger cities for upper-level city officials or the private sector. Not only can those searches run upwards of $20,000, Tomb said, but often times they won't service smaller cities (under 10,000) especially if they are in parts of Kansas too far away from headquarters, Tomb said. The league can offer similar services for about a fifth of the cost.

"A lot of the concern from our members is that they wanted those kinds of services," he said. "It was kind of born out of the gap. We're coming at it froma lack of profit motive. It's not a big money-maker. We're servicing our members."

At the Dec. 10 council meeting, council member Dan Gregg said he wanted the council to talk about eliminating appointed positions from the city, making them full-blown employees. He said that would give the city greater flexibility when it came to hiring, firing and contract negotiations.

Tomb said that whether a city administrator was appointed or a full-blown employee differed from community to community, but most are appointed with a contract.

"I know of several situations where people have been city administrators or city managers for 20 years and never had a contract."

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