PORT TOWNSEND — The City of Port Townsend will hire a recruitment firm from California to aid in the search of a new city manager.
The Port Townsend City Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to sign a contract of not more than $24,500 with Peckham & McKenney, Inc. to help find a replacement for outgoing City Manager David Timmons, who is set to retire.
Timmons is the first and only city manager Port Townsend has had.
Council Member Bob Gray, the lone vote against the measure, expressed concerns that hiring a headhunter could limit the involvement of the city, the city manager recruitment task force and the public.
He added that by signing a contract he feels the city is “selling ourselves short.”
“As of today, the task force and public involvement is limited,” Gray said.
“The only thing they might become involved with is when we start interviewing the finalists.”
Mayor Deborah Stinson, other council members and staff rejected that assertion, saying there is still plenty of opportunity for the public and the task force to be involved.
“The recruiter is interested in talking about how the community can still play a role and to assume that’s going to be thrown away is an incorrect impression I would like to correct,” Stinson said.
Though Stinson and others said the city will be involved and will be making the final choice, Gray insisted the recruiter will select the next city manager.
“I have to disagree with that — and I know that’s not my place,” said Nora Mitchell, finance and administrative services director. “They will be recommending candidates.”
Mitchell said that in researching the five firms that put in bids, Peckham & McKenney, Inc., was the clear winner and that the firm had glowing reviews not only from other Washington state cities that it had worked with, but also from candidates.
She said the firm targets specific websites to help ensure a diverse candidate pool.
“They were very hands-on both from the city’s standpoint and from the applicant’s standpoint,” she said. “I came away from my discussions with the firm and references feeling positive they would do a great job for us.”
Gray also said he has been talking to people about the idea of selecting a firm from California to lead the search. He questioned whether the firm is familiar with Port Townsend.
“We’re going to lose community support,” said Gray, who said he himself is from California.
“I don’t think the community is going to accept a company from California — I really don’t.”
Council member Michelle Sandoval said the community will respect the decision if the council is united.
“I don’t feel comfortable with the statement you’re making,” Sandoval said.
“I think it’s not fair and that kind of statement should be left out because there’s an insinuation about California that I don’t think needs to be there.”
Sandoval said there is no intent to leave the public and the task force out of the process.
She said that Catharine Robinson, the former mayor who led the task force, told the council in January that it should use a firm.
At the January meeting, Robinson said that though it was not discussed by the task force, as an individual she believed selecting a recruiter would be a good choice.
After the approval of the motion to hire the firm, Sandoval created another motion that the firm would provide information packets to not only the mayor and finance director, but also to an additional council member and a member of the task force.
Deputy Mayor David Faber expressed concern that hiring a firm would create “too rigid of a box,” but said that the discussions already had convinced him that selecting a recruiter was the right move.
Faber, who said he doesn’t have experience with recruitment firms, said he was worried about “unintended consequences,” but council members and staff told Faber there is flexibility to include council members and the public.
The current timeline calls for placing ads for the position and opening the position for applications later this month.
Initial applicant screening would be completed in March and interviews would begin in April.
The timeline calls for a candidate to be selected in May and begin work no later than Sept. 1.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].