Fort Worth looking for “Superman or Superwoman” city manager

“We appreciate your interest in the position of city manager,” says the colorful, glossy brochure bearing Fort Worth’s “Molly” longhorn logo.

On Tuesday, the City Council is scheduled to begin discussing the people who have applied for the job of leading more than 6,300 municipal employees.

The council has compiled a long checklist of qualities sought in an ideal candidate. The list, Mayor Betsy Price said in a meeting with the Star-Telegram Editorial Board Thursday, makes it seem like the city is “looking for Superman or Superwoman.”

No need to apologize for that. As Price said, having the right person at the top of the organizational ladder “can make or break the function of the city.”

City Manager Tom Higgins, a 27-year-veteran city employee who has held the job since 2011, announced his retirement plans in October. He said he would stay on until his replacement is aboard.

When Higgins took the helm from Dale Fisseler, he was given a $233,400 salary. Price said the city may have to pay more to lure a top-notch replacement.

In a notable departure from past city manager searches, the council will not involve employee and community groups in interviewing finalists.

“We will do the interviewing,” Price said with trademark firmness. The council, she added, not various chambers of commerce or police or firefighter organizations, was elected to make crucial decisions on behalf of Fort Worth residents.

That’s a good idea. There’s no reason to pretend that this is anything other than the council’s management hire.

The council’s recruiting consultant, the Whitney Smith Co., interviewed community and employee groups for ideas on what to look for in a new city manager, Price said.

She said their ideas were “pretty much in lock-step” with what the council wants.

At the top of the must-have list of qualities, at least in the glossy brochure put together by Whitney Smith, is experience managing growth and development in a large urban environment.

Fort Worth still has thousands of acres of open land, as well as the challenges of redevelopment in older areas.

Next — and maybe equally if not more important given recent budget sessions — is “conservative stewardship of public funds,” someone who is “comfortable in balancing a tight budget with the great demand for essential city services.”

Price was blunt. She said the new city manager must be “comfortable with getting employees to stretch.”

The council also wants “a change agent with high standards of ethical conduct, integrity and honesty,” a manager who is “a visionary” and a “proven innovator.”

Those descriptions do not come with an explanation of what changes this change agent will be expected to make.

Clearly, the council members want someone who will bring them ideas — as the brochure says, “thoughtful recommendations backed by thorough research and credible evidence.”

Price added a desire for someone who is “tech-savvy,” saying Fort Worth is “way behind” on using technology in serving city residents.

Finally, the guidelines call for a manager who is “comfortable working in a community with a growing minority population,” with “respect for diversity” and “recognizing and appreciating the racial/ethnic differences.”

The council’s timetable calls for interviewing candidates next month. Names of the top finalists — three, maybe four or five of them, Price said — will be released for public vetting before the council makes a decision.

The hiring plan is a good one. It’s a weighty task for the council members, but there should be many good candidates to pick from.