2015-08-27 / Around Town

City Manager Search Quietly Proceeds

By Barry Bridges

With another executive session on the calendar for the morning of Thursday, Aug. 27, Newport councilors are scheduled to continue their deliberations on the choice for the city’s next manager.

Whether the meeting will result in an announcement remains to be seen, but it will be the latest in a series of closed-door talks that have continued over the summer as the best person for the job is identified. Even though it was reported to Newport This Week in late May that the number of prospects had been narrowed to about half a dozen, councilors have honored the confidentiality required in personnel matters and have not been forthcoming with information about the candidates or an anticipated timeline for making a hire.

In a recent telephone conversation, Third Ward Councilor Kathryn Leonard would only confirm that interviews are ongoing, but maintained that municipal affairs are proceeding as usual. “We’re working within the system and doing everything that we need to do. We wrapped up the budget process successfully, and all departments are working effectively. We are doing the city’s business.”

Similarly, Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano briefly stated, “We are continuing with interviews.”

Fourteen months have passed since former City Manager Jane Howington tendered her resignation on June 27, 2014. Solicitor Joseph Nicholson switched hats and has assumed the duties of the position in the interim.

While the city has been moving forward on securing a permanent replacement, progress has been slow. Although Howington was hired through an internal process, councilors decided this time to employ the services of an outside recruitment firm. Even if November’s municipal elections slowed momentum to some extent, by January a $25,250 contract had been awarded to Randi Frank Consulting (RFC), a one-person business out of Wallingford, Conn., which beat out four other recruiters to spearhead the manager search.

Hoping to gather as much information as possible, RFC soon met with councilors and city department heads to find out what qualities they would like to see in the new hire. A forum was held in late February to solicit input from the public. Additionally, Newporters were encouraged to submit their comments through the Engage Newport microsite or through email.

From the input it received from stakeholders, RFC compiled a position profile that was reviewed and approved by councilors. By April, the job opportunity was posted widely through professional organizations such as the International City/County Management Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and RFC also initiated a direct email campaign to professionals in the field who might be interested.

In online job postings, RFC described Newport as a place of “historic charm, world class sailing, and natural beauty” with a year-round population of 25,000 residents and four million annual visitors. The job description and duties primarily relied on the language of the City Charter, and specified that the manager is tasked with varied executive duties such as enforcing ordinances, monitoring municipal contracts, sharing information on finances, preparing an annual budget (which in 2015-16 totals around $129 million), and pursuing matters in the city’s best interests.

RFC outlined a preferred educational background in public policy and wanted to see demonstrated management strengths, while noting that the successful applicant would be a “collaborative leader who builds coalitions and consensus with diverse groups such as neighborhood groups, the business community, foundations, military, and nonprofits.” The profile specifically said that the city needs a “team builder and communicator” who is experienced in infrastructure improvements, strategic plans, and economic development.

Upon receiving applications, RFC narrowed down the list to those viewed as the most qualified and passed those names along to councilors for further vetting. Since that time, city leaders have been tight-lipped on what is transpiring.

Meanwhile, the Town of Portsmouth replaced its administrator within about six months after John Klimm announced his resignation last November. Also using a professional recruiter, the town announced its decision this May to hire Richard A. Rainer, who took his post on July 1.

Councilor John Florez told Newport This Week earlier this year that finding the right person to lead at City Hall is a task that can’t be rushed. “With this position we cannot just settle for someone,” he said. “That would be a disservice to the people of Newport.”

The candidate eventually chosen will be the 13th administrator to take the reins since the city manager form of government was established by the Charter in 1953. That is exclusive of several acting or interim managers who served during periods of transition.

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