City Council places city manager search on hold

BY CHRIS CLARK | JUNE 30, 2009 7:21 AM

Two months after firing former City Manager Michael Lombardo, the Iowa City City Council decided to delay their search for someone to fill the position.

The council fired Lombardo on April 17 citing personnel reasons. The councilors did not disclose details motivating their decision, and Lombardo has refused to speak with Daily Iowan reporters on numerous occasions since then.

The City Council election will take place in November, and Councilor Mike Wright said he felt it was best to let the the next council handle the search after its term starts Jan. 2, 2010.

Wright said his election to the council in the midst of Lombardo’s recruitment was “awkward” because his predecessors had already started the process. Wright started his term Jan. 2, 2008.

Lombardo started work in April of that year.

Though the councilors said waiting to hire Lombardo’s replacement means a heavier workload for city staff, they agreed it was the best decision.

But Councilor Ross Wilburn said he preferred to start looking at possibilities now; after all, the current council is experienced in the hiring process after the search for Lombardo. He didn’t have any “strong objections” to waiting, however, he said.

Dale Helling has served as the city’s interim city manager since Lombardo’s termination. He said he had candidates in mind who may be able to “share some of the responsibilities” in his office. But he felt it was too early to list names of department heads and other staff who could do it.

“I have had a couple of discussions about this,” Helling said. “But like I said earlier, this is the first time the city has discussed this since Michael was fired.”

The city paid the PAR Group — a recruitment service — more than $30,000 over the course of nine months before hiring the former city manager. If the council decides to use the same firm, the search could come with a considerably smaller price tag this time, according to a letter from City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes.

Dilkes noted the PAR Group had guaranteed Lombardo’s employment for at least 12 months. He was fired just weeks before reaching one year of service.

City officials had also moved Lombardo’s employment evaluation more than two weeks ahead of the scheduled meeting.

Dilkes suggested the company would be required to conduct a new search nearly free of charge.

Though she sent PAR Group a letter about a week after the council’s decision, Dilkes said she has received no response from the search firm, leading her to believe the guarantee is not time-sensitive.

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