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Plot twists in search for city manager

The search for a city manager has reached a turning point.

The city council on Tuesday voted unanimously to direct the consulting firm, Prothman, to put a hold on its search for a city manager. Proposition 1, an initiative to change the city's form of government and replace a city manager with an elected mayor, will nullify the need for a new city manager.

However, Prothman is not being cut loose yet. It could be up to a year before the mayoral election occurs. The city needs an interim manager until an elected mayor takes office. How the city manager search proceeds depends largely on whether current interim city manager Brian Wilson is interested in serving in his capacity for another five months to a year. An executive session is needed to discuss Wilson's desires, deputy mayor Eric Faison said.

"I believe the will of the council is to ask him and have him consider staying on to serve as interim as we go through this process," Mayor Jack Dovey said.

The city council must pick a date to hold the mayoral election before formally approaching Wilson, Dovey said. Once a date is selected, the council will be better able to determine its needs from an interim city manager while preparing to change the city's form of government, he said.

"Right now, we're trying to figure out when the election is," Dovey said.

Wilson has served as the interim city manager since May, when the council parted ways with former city manager Neal Beets. Wilson, who previously served as the city's police chief, was appointed to his current position by the city council. The council has always made it clear to Wilson that once a permanent replacement is found, he will return to his duties as police chief, Dovey said. Nothing has changed except the timeline in which Wilson is being asked to serve as the interim manager, he said.

"He's done a tremendous job since we've made him an interim manager," Dovey said.

Wilson said he preferred not to comment on whether he wishes to remain interim city manager because the council has not asked him to stay in the position.

Wilson has proved his commitment to the city. He's led staff and the city council through a long-range plan and is currently in the midst of revealing his mid-biennium budget. If Wilson retains his position, he'll embark upon the 2011-2012 budget during his term as interim.

"It's been a challenge," Wilson said. "I have enjoyed the assignment. I've enjoyed working with each council member and the mayor."

To date, the city has spent roughly $9,000 on the search for a new manager, human resources director Mary McDougal said. It has only paid Prothman for the services it has completed, and the contract can be terminated at any time with a 30-day notice, McDougal said.

If Wilson chooses to vacate his position, Prothman's services to the city could continue. The agency has connections and may be able to help find a good temporary fit for the interim city manager position, McDougal said. This process may not include soliciting new applications, she said. Prothman could also be asked to assist the city council in finding a city administrator, if the council establishes this position. Some of the candidates who applied for the city manager position could be considered for that position, she said. City administrators generally have professional qualifications and experience in overseeing municipal operations. They answer to the elected mayor.

Efforts to permanently replace Beets began shortly after this departure. The city council first solicited applications for the open position, but later hired Prothman to identify top candidates. The council was looking to hire a new city manager no later than February. Had Proposition 1 failed, Prothman planned to review city manager applications this week. Interviews would have followed in December.

The city council will next discuss setting a mayoral election date and the future of the city manager search at 7 p.m. Dec. 1 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S., during its regularly scheduled meeting.

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