February 18, 2014

Fort Worth city manager search produces four finalists and lots of questions

Ever since Fort Worth City Manager Tom Higgins announced his retirement in October, the mayor and City Council have been on a fast track to find his replacement.

Ever since Fort Worth City Manager Tom Higgins announced his retirement in October, the mayor and City Council have been on a fast track to find his replacement.

Mayor Betsy Price emphasized that the ideal candidate for this fast-growing, diverse city would be a fiscally responsible, tech-savvy visionary with both private-sector and government experience.

In other words, the city “was looking for Superman or Superwoman,” she said. Fort Worth is the 16th-largest city in the nation, with 6,300 municipal employees and an annual budget of $1.4 billion.

With the help of a locally based human resources consulting firm that conducted a national search, the council last week narrowed the candidates to four finalists who will be brought back to Fort Worth on Tuesday for another round of in-person interviews.

It’s up to council members to decide just how “super” these applicants are, but based on the initial resume summaries of the four finalists and the cities from which they come, Fort Worth residents might justly ask if these are the absolute best candidates available.

The finalists are: Milton R. Dohoney Jr., former city manger of Cincinnati; Craig Malin, city administrator of Davenport, Iowa; Mark McDaniel, city manager in Tyler; and Joyce Wilson, El Paso city manager.

Three of those cities — Cincinnati, Davenport and Tyler — are much smaller than Arlington, not to mention Fort Worth. Cincinnati proper has less than 300,000 residents, although it has a budget of $1 billion and 5,600 employees. Tyler and Davenport have populations of less than 100,000.

That is not to say managers from smaller cities cannot do a good or even even super job running big cities. Still, it would be more comforting to see a track record of working in a place with all the complexities of a city the size of Fort Worth.

El Paso, the largest city represented by the finalists, has only had a council-manager form of government since 2004, when Wilson was hired. She has a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and 25 years of local government experience.

Dohoney was forced to resign in Cincinnati last year. Municipal politics sometimes undercut job stability, and being asked to leave a job as city manager is not uncommon. But it automatically raises questions.

Press reports said a newly elected mayor and council wanted Dohoney to be gone before they took office Dec. 1, even though he had been given a sizable raise the year before.

Dohoney was one of five finalists for the Dallas city manager’s position announced in December, which speaks well for him. He didn’t get the job; the council chose an internal candidate, A.C. Gonzalez, who had been serving as interim manager.

Although there were internal candidates in Fort Worth, none made the list of finalists.

All four of the finalists could very well be excellent candidates, and the process of selecting them extremely efficient at finding the best available talent and experience.

The city’s consultant, Whitney Smith Co., has a 25-year history of national executive searches and also has done public-sector searches.

Out of the 35 applicants reviewed by the firm, 15 names were submitted to the council, and seven candidates were brought to Fort Worth for interviews. From those we have the four finalists.

Now it’s up to the council to give us the best person for the job, which could even mean they keep looking.

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