Sorry, This Is Not ‘Municipal Transparency’

On Friday, May 24, the City of Amarillo issued a press release headlined “City of Amarillo Invites Community to Meet Finalists for City Manager Position.”

Problem: Maybe the city should have invited the community to be part of the selection process; at the very least, keep it in the loop.

Within the first paragraph of this release, the search was referred to as “Extensive and Rigorous.” The most glaring piece of information shared in that paragraph was the fact that 77 applicants apparently expressed interest in the vacancy.

Up until this press release, it seems no one knew of the 77 applicants. No names. No bios. Nothing. When we last carried out a national search for a City Manager, the public was kept relatively apprised of the process. There were five finalists in the end, including Interim City Manager, Bob Cowell. When the dust settled, Jared Miller was chosen and hired in 2017. Cowell left for a position in Virginia immediately after.

Miller was relieved of his job last October, and the council has been wrestling with the task of filling the void since.

Deputy City Manager, Andrew Freeman – hired around the same time as Miller – was named Interim City Manager. Mayor Stanley on several occasions during city council meetings referred to Freeman as “Mister City Manager.” All indications were Freeman might have an inside track toward filling the vacancy.

Then came a press release in mid-February announcing the creation of ‘Managing Directors’ in a realignment of leadership roles modeled after markets already implementing this civic structure. Mayor Cole Stanley and City Council members all appeared to be caught off guard by this news.

Not unlike the citizens of Amarillo being caught off guard by a press release announcing two finalists for one of the highest-paid positions in the city.

Freeman stepped down in early March and Floyd Hartman was then named Interim City Manager, and his salary openly presented, $245,000.00 per year (to be paid at this rate for the duration he serves in that position.) Using basic math with no allowance for deductions, this would come to roughly just over $20,000.00 a month.

The council decided to hire the firm Baker Tilly in January to aid in the search for our next City Manager at a cost of $36,000.00, Baker Tilly was the highest bidder of the three finalists who submitted materials.

Baker Tilly sought applicants from sources such as GovernmentJobs.com, using templates they have created and used for myriad other markets, and a head-scratching supplemental questionnaire. Tasks we are more than capable of executing ourselves. At least, I hope we are.

Yet somehow, we landed on the final pair of candidates.

Mr. Matthew Allen who is currently the City Manager of Garden City, KS, and Mr. Grayson Path, current City Manager of Paris, TX. Both are well educated, as one would expect. Both have been moving up the ladder of Civic Leadership.

Moving up.

I don’t know these gentlemen. I prefer not to write or say too much about them beyond what I can glean from what little information was released this past Friday. Friday afternoon heading into the long, three-day weekend when most folks are already hitting the road. Interesting.

They are both currently City Managers in cities with populations of less than 30,000. In the quotes attributed to each candidate in Friday’s press release, one can see and read today’s preferred ‘hot button’ words and phrases, such as ‘vibrant,’ ‘dynamic,’ ‘exciting,’ when describing Amarillo. Allen’s quote includes his desire to use his “set of core organizational and leadership and community development principles” he has developed over his career. Path says his “character, experience and skills closely align with the ideal candidate for the City Manager of Amarillo.”

On a basic first blush, both are still ‘moving up.’

We will all learn more about these men during the June 3 meet-and-greet scheduled for 6pm to 8pm at Hodgetown. An odd choice. Maybe the city doesn’t want the prospective new City Manager to see the Civic Center Complex where most other meetings like this have been held? Rather, a more modern venue that the city keeps adding money to at the demand of MILB, including the recent $4.5 million updates. Yep, to a venue that is still basically brand new.

Let’s circle back to the press release issued Friday. A quote attributed to Mayor Stanley refers to the search for – and choice of a new City Manager to be a “pivotal moment for the City of Amarillo.” He even noted the importance of community involvement in making this critical decision.

It is the last paragraph of this oddly timed press release that really concerns me. It suggests the city will actually consider community feedback in its decision. Lastly, it reads, “This event (the June 3 meet-and-greet) underscores the Council’s commitment to transparency and active civic engagement.”

Even as I wrote that, my blood pressure rose slightly.

‘Municipal Transparency’ is assuring you are doing your best to keep your constituents informed; allowing them to view, if not, be a part of the process. Afterall, if you are not allowed to see or know what is going on, can it still be considered transparent?

Informing the press, and subsequently the public, that you have narrowed a field of 77 (without ever mentioning there were 77) down to two on a Friday afternoon heading into the long Memorial Day weekend was a little weak in my book as well. It minimizes the expected sting of questions and backlash while also banking on the hope come Tuesday, it will all give way to beer, hotdogs, BBQ, backyard and recreation memories.

By the way, have I mentioned we are also paying Baker Tilly twenty five dollars shy of $50,000.00 to help our city and 10 very capable citizens prepare changes to our city charter in time for a November ballot placement? If you’re a listener, you know the answer.

I hope this made some sense.

The thoughts and opinions shared here may or may not reflect that of KGNC, its staff, management or Alpha Media.

You can contact Michael J. Stevens at [email protected]

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