City council members on Monday sought to address how bad press in a national magazine could impact their search for a new city manager, while one challenger for the fall elections is making the critique a campaign issue.
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin put the discussion on Monday’s agenda after the July issue of Governing magazine suggested that Raleigh “is overdoing hands-on government” by meddling in day-to-day operations.
“I think sitting here and ignoring it is not a good move,” Baldwin told the council. “We have to show from our actions and our words that that’s not the case.”
Human Resources Director Stephen Jones, who is organizing the manager search, said the bad press could prompt potential candidates to question recruiters for the city. Raleigh expects to contract with a firm later this month.
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“We just need to be prepared to help the executive search firm with how they work with candidates if that comes up,” Jones said. “We have to remember that all of our candidate pool is doing research on us, and this article will come up in a search.”
The article was written by the director of the Governing Institute, former Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser. He points to a May 12 News & Observer article that highlighted emails showing several City Council members want a more hands-on role in the city’s operations, seeking to protect reserved parking spots and meet directly with department heads. One email detailed a council member’s request for a specific staff member to work on a project that hadn’t yet been approved by the full council.
Funkhouser said that a hands-on approach from council members is ineffective and could violate a city’s charter. “When they try to directly manage city employees, they undercut the work of the full council in legislating and oversight,” he wrote.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane said she doesn’t think the critique is accurate.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the article’s out there,” McFarlane said. “I don’t think that’s how we’re managed.”
Other council members said Funkhouser should have done more research into Raleigh’s governance. “I thought that was taking sniblets of other folks’ work, and it didn’t really get into the nitty gritty,” councilman Thomas Crowder said. “I didn’t think it was a very good article to begin with.”
Regardless of whether the article turns off potential manager applicants, the issue of hands-on governing will come up in this year’s election season. Attorney Wayne Maiorano is challenging North Raleigh incumbent councilman Randy Stagner, who wrote many of the emails referenced in the magazine.
Maiorano attended Monday’s meeting and issued a statement. “Certain members of our city council – including my opponent – have created a culture of interference in the daily management of the city,” he wrote. “They have lost sight of what’s important: good, thoughtful leadership.”
The emails indicated clashes between several council members and former City Manager Russell Allen, who was fired in April.
Maiorano also attacked that decision. “The firing and process of replacing Raleigh’s city manager is just one example of the lack of planning and poor leadership,” he said.