FORT WORTH — The City Council met behind closed doors Tuesday to start narrowing down a list of about 35 city manager candidates.The council expects to choose two or three finalists by late February and a final selection by March.To make the selection move smoothly, the council is not allowing employee groups such as the police and fire associations to interview candidates.Mayor Betsy Price, who talked about getting an outsider to serve as city manager when she ran in 2011, stressed that it was important to do the national search. The past several city managers were selected from internal candidates, and the most recent external candidate left Fort Worth in August 2004.“I don’t want to comment that no one [internally] stacked up, but I think we feel that the city was owed, the citizens of Fort Worth were owed, the opportunity for us to look at a very wide range of candidates,” Price has said.She said the council has city employees applying for the position but would not say how many. Whitney Smith Co., a human resources consulting firm, was hired to conduct a national search for the city manager. It has interviewed the city’s employee groups —police, fire and general employees — and has talked to local chambers of commerce about what they would like to see in a city manager.The qualifications, outlined in an advertising brochure, say a candidate should be fiscally responsible, have industry experience combined with city government experience, and be a visionary and innovator who is tech-savvy.Once the few finalists are selected, their names and résumés will be released to the public and city employees for comment, Price said. But she defended excluding the employee groups during selection of finalists.“Really, this council is elected, as am I, to represent the citizens,” she said. “And you get too many groups in and the pressure gets to just be unwieldy. It is very hard for them to settle on a candidate with that much pressure.” Because the city faces lawsuits over pensions from two major employee groups — the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association and two members of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association — Price said any candidate will have to be familiar with those groups and with labor concerns. The finalists will be brought to Fort Worth for an interview, will be given a tour of the city, potentially including a helicopter fly-over of the city, and their spouses will also be invited, Price said. A national candidate could raise the salary of the position, Price said, in order to stay competitive. Tom Higgins, the current city manager, was given $233,400 when he took the job in 2011. Higgins, who had been with the city 27 years, announced his retirement in October but agreed to stay until a replacement is found.Higgins, 70, a Detroit native, was involved in the construction of Alliance Airport, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the initial development projects at Sundance Square. Fort Worth has never had a female city manager and has had six city managers since 1990, including the first African-American city manager, Robert Terrell, who served from July 1992 to January 2001.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst