FW council wise to start over in search for city manager

02/26/2014 5:26 PM

02/26/2014 5:27 PM

Before the Fort Worth City Council began interviewing the four finalists for city manager this week, Mayor Betsy Price said: “They are all excellent candidates. … Everybody brings a little bit different skill set, and we continue to want the very best candidate for Fort Worth.”

After spending Tuesday interviewing the three men and one woman who made the cut, the mayor said that although they all are “very strong professionals,” the council “didn’t feel like any of them were the perfect fit for Fort Worth.”

The bottom line is the city will start over to find the right person to replace Tom Higgins, who announced his retirement in October but offered to stay on until a new manager is hired.

Obviously the council will not meet its original target date of making a final selection by March. That shouldn’t be considered a major setback if it means the city will find the best person possible to fill the position.

Basically the council will ask the local-based consulting firm of Whitney Smith Co., which is conducting the search, to continue recruiting. This means they won’t be starting from scratch.

The mayor and council should be commended for not feeling obligated to select someone from the list of finalists who was not the proper fit for a city that is the 16th-largest in the country, very diverse and in the midst of major new development. It would have been a mistake to choose a manager in whom the council didn’t have complete confidence.

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board, after reviewing résumés of the leading candidates and researching their cities, had suggested that the council not be afraid to “keep looking” if they found the four to be lacking.

Price indicated early on that the city’s criteria for a new manager made it seem that the council was looking for “superman or superwoman.” Specifically, the mayor said the right person should be a visionary, proven innovator, be knowledgeable about pension reforms, be comfortable with handling tight budgets, be tech-savvy and have experience in city government and industry.

That’s a tall order indeed.

The question now becomes whether that person is still out there now that the original list of candidates submitted by the consulting firm has been rejected. The company reviewed 35 applicants and submitted 15 names to the council, and seven were brought to Fort Worth for interviews before the final four were selected.

The cities from which the finalists came — Tyler, El Paso, Davenport, Iowa and Cincinnati, Ohio — seem to be very different from Fort Worth, although some certainly have some of the same challenges as Cowtown. All except El Paso are much smaller in population.

One would think that there are other qualified candidates, including many in larger cities, who would have an interest in coming to a place as attractive as Fort Worth.

The council will meet with the consulting firm Tuesday to come up with another timeline for the search. The city’s contract with the consultants calls for the company to receive a payment totaling 25 percent of the base pay of the person hired, with a $20,000 payment due 10 days after the contract is signed and another $20,000 after 45 days in the process, said Jason Lamers, chief of staff for the mayor and council. The final payment will not be made until a candidate has been chosen.

Price said that this may be the most difficult decision the council will ever make and that it’s crucial to find the “perfect match for Fort Worth.”

She is correct. We do want the best possible person, realizing it will not be one wearing a cape who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

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