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Our Opinion: City departs from norm to fill vacancies

News Tribune editorial

Jefferson City government has a propensity to depart from the norm when it comes to filling key vacancies.

Employers typically craft a job description to suit their needs, then seek the best applicant who meets that criteria.

The mayor and City Council members, however, have a tendency to alter job descriptions or qualifications to promote existing employees who otherwise do not meet requirements.

The city now has vacancies or interim leaders in four key positions: city administrator, finance director, public works director and fire chief.

Last week, council members discussed, but took no action on, two of those posts, public works director and fire chief.

Here’s a rundown of where we are now:

• Finance director: A search is planned to fill that post, but it follows both an unsuccessful search and an abortive effort to restructure the position (in what we believe was an improper closed session) to assistant city administrator. The proposed new post, never approved by the council, would have combined the jobs of finance officer and IT director to suit the appointment of Bill Betts, an existing city employee.

• City administrator: Following the firing of the City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus, City Attorney Drew Hilpert is filing the administrator’s role in an interim capacity while a search continues. Hilpert does not meet residency requirements — to serve as administrator or attorney — but has been granted repeated exemptions.

• Public works director: The post remains vacant following the April resignation of Roger Schwartze. The council on Monday discussed elevating City Engineer Matt Morasch, but he does not meet the residency requirement.

• Fire chief: The position is being filled on an interim basis by Jason Turner following the retirement of Robert Renick. The council on Monday discussed whether to fill the post from within or conduct a more extensive search.

We believe Jefferson City must return to the standard of determining, first, qualifications based on the needs of the city, then selecting the best qualified applicant.

As an example, elected city officials must decide residency requirements and adhere to them.

Should the residency requirement be within city limits, within a specified radius or none at all? Should they vary among city positions?

And, most important, what is their purpose?

Is it proximity — you can respond more quickly to situations if you live here?

Is it loyalty — you are more likely to take pride in a city where you live?

Is it fairness — you should pay taxes to the city that gives you a paycheck?

City officials seem entangled in altering requirements based on available personnel. Decide qualifications based on principles, then adhere to them.

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