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Critics: Council should aim higher in manager search

Friday, December 2, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Although City Council has yet to see the names of executive search firms that might take on the task of helping it find a new city manager, two prominent critics are already saying the process is getting off on the wrong foot.

Those critics include retired Adm. Bob Inman, who served as director of the National Security Agency, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency and chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. He currently teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and is a member of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Through its Purchasing and Human Resources departments, the city is using a routine procedure for finding vendors to help hire employees at different levels. The Purchasing Office issued a notice to more than 600 companies that the city was looking for firms to help guide it through a request for qualifications process.

This is the normal procedure, according to city Purchasing Officer James Scarboro. He said that in addition to posting the opportunity on the city’s website, it was advertised in the newspaper, as required by state law, and the notice was also sent to every company that has indicated an interest in personnel assignments.

That included firms such as Mobile Nerds Computers LLC, Maxim Healthcare Services Inc., Eagle Ford Procurement and Supply Services LLC, and IT Solutions on Demand LLC. None of these companies are among the 10 that the city lists as possible bid winners for this job.

Inman told the Austin Monitor on Thursday, “My first problem is in going out with an RFQ. … They should have gone out to one or maybe all four of the major search firms. There’s where the problem begins.

“The whole process is already headed toward mediocrity,” he said. But it is the fault of Council, not staff, he said.

The other well-known city critic is Mike Levy, former publisher of Texas Monthly and an advocate for public safety and emergency services.

As Levy pointed out in an email to Mayor Steve Adler and Council this week, the four largest executive search firms are not among the 600 on the Purchasing Office’s list, and they “are the most respected in the country, (firms) that boards of directors of large private and public companies must often retain when they have a need to recruit an experienced, high-level executive,” Levy said.

Former City Manager Toby Futrell was asked to weigh in on the normal process for finding a city manager. She told the Monitor, “You want a search firm that has some successful placements in large cities, so you normally pick one that has some big successes.” However, Futrell did not criticize the current process.

Inman said that Council needs to get involved right away. “You need, at the level of the Council, you need to get out of the cycle of rotating people through city manager jobs and reach for a much broader gauge (of) individuals, and you’re only going to do that if you go through one of the major search firms.

“We ought to be going after the most competent candidate that we can attract,” Inman continued, “a person who will be managing not just a city, but an electric utility as well as an airport. And I worry that we are going about this in a way that we will only look at people who have only been city managers,” not the strong, dynamic executive Austin needs.

Inman concluded, “If (University of Texas President) Greg Fenves had taken the approach they are taking, he would not have had Tom Herman signed up as coach of the Texas Longhorns in 24 hours, and I just think the job is that important for the city for where it needs to go. So I would break the mold that’s been used in the past … (and) try higher and harder.”

Council could be looking at a decision on the search firm as early as next Thursday but no later than Dec. 15, according to Scarboro.

According to the city website, the following firms are under consideration for the recruitment job: Strategic Government Resources of Keller, Texas; CPS HR Consulting of Sacramento, California; Ralph Andersen & Associates of Rocklin, California; Slavin Management Consultants of Norcross, Georgia; Pedigo Staffing Services of San Antonio; Affion Public of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania; S. Renee Narcloch & Associates of Tallahassee, Florida; GovHR USA of Northbrook, Illinois; Waters & Company of Addison, Texas; and TES, Inc. of Austin.

The big four firms that Levy and Inman think are the most qualified are: Heidrick and Struggles, Spencer Stuart, Korn Ferry and Russell Reynolds.

Photo by That Other Paper made available through a Creative Commons license.

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