A Substantially Different Approach to the Selection of a City Manager

By Herbert Molano

Little good can come from closed, behind-the-doors, initiatives, and agreements where major policy decisions are made with virtually no local newspaper that reports regularly on city council actions, the finances of the city, or hold the council to accountability in an open forum. The selection of the city manager, heads of departments, and memorandums of understanding with employee associations are closed to the public in their deliberations and the presentation at the city council of decisions made behind closed doors does not involve sufficient public input or debate.

Do the potential negatives outweigh the benefits that a public process would provide the city’s residents? If the potential negatives of such action are so clear and essential, should the public not become privy to those reasons? If such closed-door discussions are indubitably essential, can’t the interview process be recorded such that when it is concluded, the public can have access to the process after the fact in which they were not allowed to participate? 

In any large organization private or NGO there is a board of directors. That board of directors is tasked with the search and selection of the CEO. If my understanding is correct, the process in Glendale entails senior staff to take the primary role, albeit under the guidance of the city council, to undertake such a mission. That is a significant conflict-of-interest in that the pay and benefit obligations are arguably the most significant problem that Glendale has faced in the past 15 years. The search for a city manager should be totally the prerogative of the city council to undertake and assigning this critical task to people who will be subservient to the city manager defies logic and it is riddled with potential moral challenges. 

Glendale has a weakness that makes the selection of a city manager more difficult. The city does not have a viable and effective strategic plan. Yes, there has been some effort put forth to document activity as if these were performance indicators. I’ve reviewed those documents and they are far from setting clear departmental objectives and department heads are not held accountable to clearly defined and measurable outcomes.

My suggestion is that there be a clear requirement for the new city manager to come from a city that has implemented a robust strategic plan and has held staff accountable for results. Additionally, I strongly suggest that the city manager must be selected as an interim city manager with no possibility of a permanent position. This limitation will free the city manager to execute the hard decisions the city must make to confront its long-standing budgetary problems and imminent financial problems in the future. The goals of the new interim city manager must include the development of a first-rate strategic plan similar in concept to the Balanced Scorecard now in use throughout the U.S. and the world in first-class municipalities large and medium-sized.

After a two-year period and after the strategic plan has been thoroughly developed, the city can undertake the task of finding a permanent city manager experienced in taking the goals of such a strategic plan to fruition. 

As Glendale reaches a budget of one billion dollars as a medium-sized city, the requirements for a city manager with a wide range of experience is necessary. Longevity in the Glendale city government is not an asset, but rather, a detriment to the effectiveness of the potential executive officer. We need someone with an experience of best practices. That is the key reason why top-level consultants are sought after by private firms and NGOs. They bring to an organization the failures and best practices of their previous challenges. 

Let’s identify the most qualified person to undertake this critical role that can bring the city back to financially prudent governance, excellent communications, and measurable improvements in our Quality of Life. 

Here are the names of some of the cities that have implemented the Balanced Scorecard. Some have been at this task for more than twenty years. 

Charlotte, NC

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Fort Worth, TX

Las Vegas, NV

Oletha, KS

Phoenix, AZ

Mobile, AL 

Brainbridge Island, WA German Town, TN

Post Author: Glendale City