Federal Way suspends search for city manager and may hire a consulting firm

Federal Way may lack a new city manager until 2010, a city council sub-committee announced June 22.

The council is going to "hit the restart button" and suspend the search, council member Jim Ferrell said.

The city council has already spent a month attempting to select a manager itself. The council chose not to renew former city manager Neal Beets' contract May 5. Shortly afterward, police chief Brian Wilson was appointed interim city manager and the hunt for a new leader began. The council said it wished to hire within five months. The city advertised the position for a little more than two weeks, and 84 applications were received.

The search took a turn when council members at the Finance, Economic Development and Regional Affairs committee voiced their desire to hire a recruiting firm to find a new city manager. Council members Jeanne Burbidge, Mike Park and Dini Duclos are voting members of the committee. Council members Ferrell, Linda Kochmar and mayor Jack Dovey attended and contributed to the discussion. Deputy mayor Eric Faison was absent.

On July 7, the council, as a whole, will decide whether to issue a request for proposals (RFP) from recruiting firms. If the council gives its go-ahead on the RFP, it will also identify a timeline for bringing the new city manager on board.

Going the route of a RFP will lengthen the wait for a new manager, human resources director Mary McDougal said. It will also signify the council's wish to scrap its monthlong efforts to choose a manager itself.

Outside assistance

A RFP will extend the city manager pursuit for another six months, at a minimum. Choosing an applicant by January, the council's perceived latest goal, is doable but pressing, McDougal said.

"That's pretty aggressive," she said.

The city's two previous managers, Neal Beets and David Mosely, respectively, were both hired with the help of a recruiting firm. From start to finish, it took eight months to find and hire Beets.

Based on those processes, preparing a RFP could take two weeks and choosing a firm another two weeks. Thirty days to negotiate the contract would put the city in September before any real progress on finding a new manager is made. A whole new round of candidates will be solicited by the firm. By November, the finalists could be introduced to the public. That course of action, paired with the final hiring negotiations, would extend the process another month or so.

"That seems too long to me," Duclos said.

Shifting paradigm

The city council has met twice in executive session to discuss the applicants. Dovey and Faison promised several times that once the council narrowed its candidate pool to an unknown number of qualified applicants, it would introduce the prospects to Federal Way residents and begin a final selection process that fully involved the public.

A letter, written by Dovey, was received by The Mirror on June 19, but was not printed due to a later request by the city. The letter declared the council slimmed the 84 applicants to 12, and would soon invite the public to participate in the city manager selection. The letter made no reference to the council's consideration of starting the process over from scratch.

In May, Faison said he saw no need to hire a recruiting firm. The council approved $35,000, but spent $22,000 on the firm that garnered Beets, McDougal said.

The city council is committed to making sure the search is an open and transparent process, Ferrell said. Dovey appeared strongly in favor of a RFP. Mike Park's comments focused mostly on clarifying the timeline for a RFP process. Duclos seemed to have reservations and expressed frustration at how long the procedure could take. Kochmar and Burbidge said little during the discussion.

"Let's just get in done right, whatever (process) it is," Kochmar said.

Check it out

This issue will be discussed again at the July 7 regularly scheduled city council meeting, to take place 7 p.m. at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S. Public comments will be accepted.

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