City spent $8,500 on search for city administrator

City says selection committee more ‘advisory group’

Jefferson City spent $8,500 on the search for a new city administrator.

New City Administrator Steve Crowell began his duties earlier this month. Crowell was approved in a 9-0 closed session vote by the City Council in January and is receiving a starting salary of $152,000.

The search leading to Crowell’s hire cost the city $8,500 in advertising, travel, hotel and other expenses. Of the total, the city spent roughly $2,400 on advertising for the city administrator position and another $6,000 on other expenses.

Those other expenses included hotel stays, airline tickets for applicants, a rental car and meals for both the selection committee tasked with finding a candidate for the position and what is listed as city administrator recruitment.

In late September, Mayor Eric Struemph announced the creation of a “selection committee” to take on the search for a new city administrator. The committee included: 3rd Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner; United Way President Ann Bax; Stephanie Bell, Downtown Association president; Nimrod Chapel Jr., president of the Jefferson City branch of the NAACP; Cole County Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger; Dan Klindt, a former city council member; Brian Mitchell, superintendent of Jefferson City Public Schools; Lincoln University President Kevin Rome; Joe Scheppers, former chairman of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce; and John Pelzer, owner of Busch’s Florist.

Unlike many other cities, Jefferson City’s search for a new city administrator happened entirely behind closed doors. The 10-member search committee began meeting in November and narrowed the field of 67 applicants to 12 people to be interviewed, all behind closed doors.

The committee then invited three finalists to be interviewed in person, again behind closed doors and without any public input.

Committee members were made to sign a confidentiality statement by the city that restricted members from discussing the process of searching for a new city administrator with anyone outside of the committee. The confidentiality statement specifically restricted members from speaking about:

  • Number of applicants who applied, which was 67;
  • Number of applicants selected for an interview;
  • Names of applicants who have applied or are interviewing;
  • Criteria/scoring and interview questions/scoring;
  • Information concerning applicant qualifications and ratings;
  • Any information obtained from candidates’ applicant materials;
  • Interview ratings; and
  • Conversations that take place during committee meetings and interviews.

Jean Maneke, counsel to the Missouri Press Association, said nothing in the agreement imposes any penalty on committee members “if they choose to violate this restriction on speech.” The News Tribune attempted to contact each member of the selection committee through email addresses they provided to the city; however, none of the committee members replied to the emails.

The confidentiality statement also stated that members were “acting as an agent of the city.”

But the committee itself never posted any meeting dates and kept almost no records, aside from one set of meeting minutes from a Nov. 18 meeting. When asked about that, city attorney Drew Hilpert said though it was called a “selection committee,” it was more of an “advisory group” and not subject to Sunshine Laws requiring meetings be posted and records be kept.

Hilpert also pointed to the fact that the committee was appointed by Struemph alone, without the consent of the City Council. Because the City Charter specifies no committee appointments can be made without the consent of the council, the committee was not really an official committee, he said.

Maneke said the argument may be legally correct, “but will strike citizens as using technicalities to avoid engaging in important public duties before the public eye.”

“How should the community feel about the mayor using his powers to appoint a secret group who is going to advise the mayor about something as important as the best applicants for the city administrator?” Maneke asked in an email. “While I understand that some of the job search process necessarily is conducted as a closed meeting or closed record matter, the fact that this process was handled in such a manner that there was no accountability to the City Council for the committee’s actions, as there would have been had the council appointed this entity, strikes me as unfortunate and an effort to circumvent what would normally be the council’s duties.

“The Sunshine Law would have provided the council with a mechanism for controlling public access to this information. But by doing it in this fashion, the council had no control over the process.”

When asked why he chose to select a committee without the consent of the council, Struemph said, “That’s how I chose to do it.”

“I just thought that that committee was a very good cross-section of our entire community, and I’ve actually gotten nothing but compliments on that committee,” Struemph said.

When asked what the advantages were to having the process structured that way, Struemph said, “That’s just the way we did it.”

The selection committee included only one council member, Scrivner, who acted as chairman. When asked whether members of the council were given the opportunity to meet Crowell before the night of the closed session where they were asked to approve his contract, Struemph said Crowell was made available to all council members the day of the closed session vote to answer any questions, though he noted he was unsure if all council members took advantage of the opportunity.

Richard Sheets, deputy director for the Missouri Municipal League, said the league doesn’t generally advise cities on processes used to hire top management, but noted they do send out reference guides from other organizations meant to assist in procedures for hiring city managers and administrators.

Sheets specifically mentioned guides from the International City/County Management Association and the Illinois City/County Management Association. Both guides, provided to the News Tribune by Sheets, specify the importance of including the entire city council in the interviewing process for the top management position.

“In some cases, however, elected officials have involved citizens or citizen committees in defining what the local jurisdiction is looking for, in the review process leading to the determination of finalists, and/or in the selection process itself,” states the recruitment guidelines handbook of the International City/County Management Association. “However, the governing body should not lose control of the final decision-making process and candidates should not receive the impression that they are being hired by a committee rather than by the government itself. After all, once hired, the administrator is accountable to the elected body.”

Expenses

Jefferson City’s expenses related to the search for a new city administrator:

Advertising:

$45 — Online advertising on Missouri Municipal League website for city administrator job opening

$643.50 — ICMA internet ad

$350 — Boxwood Tech ad

$429 — Online classified ad with the Kansas City Star

$395 — Post-Dispatch Journal ad

$230 — Missouri Lawyers Weekly ad

$153 — City administrator advertising on Oct. 6

$211.60 — City administrator advertising on Oct. 20

$2,457.10 — Total advertising costs

Travel/Hotel/Meals:

$73.96 — Selection Committee lunch

$88.81 — Hotel/Recruitment of city administrator

$177.62 — Hotel/Recruitment of city administrator

$189.42 — Hotel/Recruitment of city administrator

$89.03 — Meal: city administrator recruitment

$53.21 — Meal: city administrator recruitment

$97.10 — Meal: city administrator recruitment

$1,032.40 — Air ticket for city administrator applicant

$1,014.80 — Air ticket for city administrator applicant

$734.60 — Air ticket for city administrator applicant

$127.68 — Travel insurance

$1,016 — Air ticket for city administrator applicant

$48 — Flight: baggage

$48 — Flight: baggage

$1,016 — Air ticket for city administrator applicant

$14 — City administrator applicant expenses

$222.32 — Rental car for city administrator applicant

$6,042.95 — Total Travel/Hotel/Meals

$8,500.05 — Total expenses for city administrator search

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