City Council right to begin search for new city manager


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Iowa City is in desperate need of a new city manager.

Recognizing that exigency, city councilors backed Mayor Matt Hayek’s plan at Monday night’s work session to hire an outside firm to spearhead the search. The council still must vote to move forward with the proposal, which it is expected to do at next week’s formal meeting.

It’s imperative the council fills the city manager position in order to ensure city business runs smoothly. He or she acts as the supervisor of all city departments and implements policy decisions and ordinances.

A little more than nine months ago, the council abruptly fired Michael Lombardo. Interim City Manager Dale Helling still holds the position. He has indicated he is not interested in taking over as the permanent city manager.

Lombardo’s termination left Iowa City residents hanging in the midst of flood repair and a massive budget crisis. Just as we hoped, the council postponed its search for Lombardo’s replacement until the newly elected councilors took their seats at City Hall.

But now it is time to move forward.

Last week, Hayek sent a memorandum to councilors expressing his desire to begin a search to find a new city manager. He proposed a number of strategies that could help the council find a candidate who would best fit the Iowa City mold.

“We need a quarterback to move the ball down the field,” Hayek said Monday night, in reference to an outside search firm.

While the idea of an outside firm conducting the search may be controversial, it is also essential to hiring the right person for the job. Cost is the main objection. The city paid the recruitment firm that hired Lombardo approximately $16,500 for its services. With travel costs and other events, the city spent around $30,000 on the process, Helling said. Still, we feel hiring an outside search firm would solicit the highest level candidates for the position — a position that deserves no less than the best.

At Monday’s work session, councilors said an outside firm would provide both the necessary expertise to conduct the search and could locate a wider swath of qualified candidates.

“There are a better number and quality of candidates,” Councilor Susan Mims said. “I definitely support the idea of an outside search firm.”

The second part of Hayek’s plan really sold us. He proposed an innovative idea to formulate three committees that would be responsible for conducting final interviews with the candidates.

Two of the committees would include 16 citizen-commission leaders around Iowa City, which would give city staff under the manager’s control a chance to choose a boss they think would cater to their needs. The third committee would consist of former Iowa City mayors. These are people who have experience doing business within the city and will have clear judgments on the qualifications of the candidates.

Hayek’s proposal is a good one, and the need for a new city manager is urgent. We encourage the City Council to move forward with the mayor’s search plan.

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