Advice and consent
If you look around, in almost any setting involving a large organization, hiring is treated as an important process and hiring senior staff is treated with the greatest importance. Why? Because most organizations are only as good as their people. And people are often there for a long time – you want to get it right because the decision will be with you for a while.
The origin of this proposal - for me - is based on the notion that we shouldn’t have a single person carry out the hiring of the most important senior staff in our City. That there shouldn’t be an ultimate authority without a check and balance. Let me offer my reasons why we shouldn’t leave your elected officials with no ability to influence the final selection by an unelected administrator of the most senior staff that serve you.
First government. At the federal level, the Presidents choices to head departments are all confirmed by the Senate, at the State level, the Maryland Governor’s appointments not just to departments but to boards and commissions must be approved by the Senate. At the County level, the County Executive first has to take the advice of their Chief Administrative Officer and then get the consent of the County Council. I wonder if anyone will be proposing to Jamie Raskin or George Leventhal that we abolish these approaches? Yes, a small part of this is about politics – making sure that appointees are not so wildly out of character with the values and philosophy of the majority of elected officials. But a big part of it is intended to make sure that qualified people are hired.
Second, tenure. The organization that represents City and County Managers reports that the average tenure of a City Manager is 7.4 years. These people move around a lot. That means that we are frequently going to have managers on their way out the door (or new to our City) when hiring decisions are being made.
Third, people make mistakes. We all make mistakes. In my own experience, job candidates sometimes look pretty good but have a couple of flaws or weak spots. Are they enough to change your choice. Maybe yes, but maybe no. It’s a judgment. I’d posit that sometimes that judgment is wrong and it would help to have the Council there as back up to see it.
Let me address some of the arguments against it.
I’ve heard that this change would be unprecedented. Let me use three local examples to show that it is not. College Park – the Assistant City Manager, City Engineer, and City Health officer all have an advice and consent role in their hire. In Rockville, the Council appoints the Treasurer. The International Association of City and County Managers report that more than 60 percent of city’s with a council-manager form of government have amended the form of their government.
I’ve heard that this will make hiring subject to politics. You know, I think this comes down to a fundamental issue of how you view us, your neighbors. Our children are born in the same hospitals as yours. Our kids go to the same schools. The same father-daughter dances. The same graduations. We serve as volunteers on the same committees year after year. Or Sligo Creek clean ups. We happen to be a set of neighbors who volunteer for this service. To sit up here and read 100s of pages a week of material about the city and where its going. I know some of you believe that once we get up here we are no longer decent people, no longer to be trusted. I tell ya, I just cannot believe that about myself. Or Bruce or Fred or anyone up here. You might. But I don’t. And its with that belief that I have offered this proposal. Because I believe in the decency of councilmembers as human beings, I believe that 9 times out of 10, a choice by the manager for a department head will be confirmed 7 to 0. It is a power that will be used rarely.
Requiring residency is a common practice in both small and large cities for City Manager positions. College Park and Greenbelt have it. To give you a sense for just how common it is, let me trace the history (that I could find online) for our two most recent city managers. Rick Finn when from an administrator job in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin to Sandusky Ohio to Takoma Park. I’m not sure where next but he was a finalist for the job in Marco Island, Florida and then was manager in Peekskill New York. Everyone had a residency requirement.
Barb Matthews moved from Gladstone Missouri to Kirkwood Missouri to Manchester Missouri. Of the three – Manchester didn’t have a residency requirement in the City but required the manager to live in state. She came here in response to a job posting that indicated a preference for residency but lived in Reston because her husband took a city manager job there – with a residency requirement. Now she has moved to Rockville – residency required.
How would residency benefit us?
I liked this idea from the first moment a constituent suggested it to me. I think the primary benefit comes from having a city manager who wants not just the job but is also willing to be part of our wonderful, special and unique community. If you don’t think our community is unique and special then I guess we disagree.
Is it too expensive?
The median income in MontCo – half of all residents – make less than $66,000 a year. Our last City Manager left us at a salary of $160,000. That salary puts you in the top 10 percent of the country. Its higher than the salary of anyone in Takoma Park whose salary I know.
Why are we talking about the Charter?
If we could do this without making charter changes that would be ideal.
For example, Rockville doesn’t have the “Council Interference” language in its Charter but puts it in their Code. We repeat the same language in both places.
I introduced this proposal in July because we have a vacancy in our City Manager position. Rather than make changes like this when there is an incumbent in place, a vacancy creates the perfect opportunity for evaluation. We’ve talked about the issue at two public work sessions since July, and received public comment at both. And if you are in Ward 2, you might have gotten seven weekly updates from me about this since then, along with a video explaining the issues, and Facebook and website posts.
Does this have to slow down the hiring process?
No. The delay so far in recruitment has come from our self-imposed requirement to use a citizen committee to first develop a position description and then help us vet candidates. Its my understanding that the search firm we hired is meeting with the Committee for the first time tomorrow and that the firm, in addition to other subjects under discussion, will offer a suggestion on how both of these potential changes can be described in the position advertisement without having to have made a decision yet on them.
Have I or others frozen out debate or closed off compromise?
Speaking for myself, I’ll admit its true that I haven’t wanted to negotiate – negotiate – the details of this proposal with the one citizen who asked me to do so. But I have listened to constituents and non-constituents. I’ve offered to meet with residents in Ward 2 – although no one has been interested enough to ask for that meeting. But ultimately, that negotiation is supposed to take place right here in front of you and on camera in an open meeting where we work to represent all constituents and their interests.
I’ve gone on long enough but after we finish our opening statements, I just wanted to let the Mayor know that I have a number of revisions and suggestions that I would be happy to offer.