Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Washington City Council members deliberated on the recruitment process and transition period to replace City Administrator Brent Hinson.
Hinson announced his resignation and new position in Mason City a week before the Tuesday night meeting, setting up the hunt for new candidates. While the council didn’t move any resolution on the matter Tuesday night, the discussion charted a course for future meetings.
After some discussion, council members expressed broad support for a plan proposed by Hinson to appoint City Clerk & Development Services Director Sally Hart and City Financial Director Kelsey Brown as co-interim administrators during any gap between Hinson’s exit and a new administrator’s arrival.
“We would work to divide up the duties in a fair and equitable way,” Hinson said. “Then the staff members would have somebody that has the authority to make day-to-day decisions to help keep things moving forward.”
Brown and Hart would receive additional compensation for their roles in the interim period, per a section of the city personnel manual written shortly after Hinson’s arrival in Washington.
Hart and Brown said they were comfortable with the interim responsibilities.
“One thing is that we have really strong department heads,” Hart said. “Kelsey and I wouldn’t be doing this by ourselves, we have really nice leadership.”
Council members expressed concern that a third party interim administrator would be unfamiliar with the nuances of Washington’s needs.
“There are people, but it’s tough for them to come in cold,” council member Illa Earnest said.
“It makes me nervous that the two co-interims would spend as much time as they would ‘co-interiming’ advising that interim person,” Mayor Jaron Rosien added. “I’m more comfortable with an (outside) interim when there’s a bunch of broken things that need fixing … I feel great that we don’t have that scenario here.”
Hinson said his biggest concern was “not dropping any balls” in the transition.
Rosien said a motion to approve the co-interim plan would be on the agenda for the next regular meeting in July.
Council members broadly agreed on the need for a third party consultant firm in the hiring process but didn’t hash out the plan to choose a firm.
“None of us has ever made that decision,” council member Fran Stigers said. “I don’t think we, sitting here, can make that decision. We need a consultant to come in that knows what he or she is doing.”
It’s unclear how the city would select a consultant firm.
“We could do an RFP for consultants,” Rosien said. “Council can also just evaluate consultants and select one and get that ball rolling right away … I was in the camp of fast pace, but I also have reason to believe that it would be OK to have an interim and to pause.”
Hinson said that using a consultant would likely delay the start of a new administrator until Jan. 1, but council members expressed little concern over this trade-off in light of interim arrangements.
The administrator transition is convenient in some sense, but not most. Hinson has previously noted that his Aug. 6 departure would overlap with few ongoing projects, a fact council members expressed gratitude for.
“We’ve gotten a lot of projects completed,” council member Danielle Pettit-Majewski said. “I would feel terrible leaving (Hart and Brown) in the middle of lots of things that were not quite done.”
That doesn’t mean the change is free of timing issues.
“There’s a lot that goes on between now and Jan. 1 on the city calendar,” Hinson said. “A lot of those things are things that I do.”
Hinson noted tax increment financing certifications, budget preparation, council packets and urban renewal plan updates as administrator-dependent issues slated for the interim period. Hinson said the experience required to handle these issues would necessitate outsourcing.
“There’s going to be a lot more legal work done because usually I write all the agreements and then just send them to review,” he said. “You’re going to have a lot more expense on legal. There’s just going to be a lot of those things … you’re going to need to pay a lot more contract services to keep the ball rolling.”
The transition also runs through an election cycle. Rosien and council members Steven Gault, Elaine Moore, and Fran Stigers are up for reelection in November. Rosien said the possibility of changing city officials during the decision-making process could complicate the issue.
“We’ll know in August who is all running for elected office,” Rosien said. “If those are people that are involved and running for elected office, there could be a possibility of involving them in some level of the discussion on new administration. That’s also hard to balance, it’s very delicate, and could be an obstacle.”
The council was split on how to balance speed with quality in their search process.
“The benefit of time is that you have an opportunity to think about what you want it to look like,” Pettit-Majewski said. “I think sometimes when you move forward like ‘OK, we’ve got to get going,’ I think sometimes that leaves you in a position where you may be redoing your steps shortly thereafter.”
Others were eager to get moving as soon as possible
“Even getting people here to interview them, so as soon as we can get started, it’s going to take a while,” Earnest said. “I’m not suggesting we should move at breakneck speed, it just takes a while from the time you start.”
Gault was more eager.
“The sooner we get it done the less money we’re going to spend,” he said, referencing Hinson’s point about the expense of an interim period.
While the council made no action items during the discussion, Rosien said they would return to the discussion at the next council meeting in three weeks.