Raleigh city manager finalist list probably won't be made public

ccampbell@newsobserver.comAugust 27, 2013 

— The City Council probably won’t release the names of finalists for the city manager job, despite calls from several council members for more transparency.

A meeting Monday could be the council’s final public discussion of the search process. The application period to replace fired City Manager Russell Allen ends Saturday, and the review of candidates will start next week. Leaders hope to have the position filled by Oct. 1.

But unlike recent searches for Wake County school superintendent and Raleigh police chief, the council decided this week not to identify finalists and hold public forums with the top three. Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the secrecy is needed to attract the best possible candidates.

“The search firm’s opinion is that there are a number of good candidates that are not telling their employers that they are looking,” she said Tuesday. “As soon as it becomes public, there are certainly people who (would) lose their job over that, and it puts them in a difficult position.”

The decision was made Monday without an official vote and with only five of eight council members present. Headhunter John Anzivino had told the council that some candidates wanted to know about confidentiality before submitting their applications. “If the publicity part is a deal-breaker for somebody, they need to know that now,” the mayor said.

Councilman Russ Stephenson said Monday’s advice from the search firm changed his mind. “Up until yesterday, I felt like putting the finalists before the public was a good idea,” he said.

The council majority rejected Councilman Bonner Gaylord’s proposal for an unusually transparent process. Gaylord said he’d like the council to go beyond releasing names – he thinks the public should have access to application materials and videotapes of interviews. The city could put the information online for a week or two and solicit public input, he said.

“My goal was to try and open up everything as long as it wasn’t going to have a significant detrimental impact on any of the finalists,” Gaylord said, adding that he thinks the decision on secrecy should be made once finalists are selected.

Council members Thomas Crowder and Eugene Weeks missed Monday’s meeting and said they weren’t consulted about the decision, but they support the move toward confidentiality. Councilmen Randy Stagner and John Odom were at the meeting but didn’t return calls Tuesday.

Crowder and Stephenson say they won’t rule out a public forum later in the process. “I think if (finalists) were comfortable, I would most definitely have no problem,” Crowder said. “There’s no reluctancy to have it public other than making sure we have the best and brightest candidates coming forward.”

Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin, who had a work conflict Monday, said she’d like to discuss the move again. “My hope would be we could revisit this when all councilors are present,” she said. “This is one of the most important decisions we will make. I’d opt for more feedback from the public and our partners.”

But McFarlane says the council’s already received plenty of feedback, offering surveys to residents and city employees. “The very first thing we did was we did outreach – we talked to people about what’s important to you in the city manager,” she said. “It’s not that we haven’t asked for public input.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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