The Ellensburg City Council spent nearly two hours in a special meeting Monday to make a wish list for qualities it wants to see in a new city manager.

City Manager Ted Barkley is leaving to take a new job in Belgrade, Mont., next month.

The Council, short of asking for an administrative superbeing, still had a long list.

Ellensburg’s council-manager system of government, where a professional oversees the operation of the city based on policy set by an elected council, makes finding a good manager key to ensuring the city’s health.

Furthermore, Barkley has been the city manager for 13 years, leaving a large pair of shoes for his successor to fill.

The Council, with city Human Resources Director Cindy Smith, worked to solidify what it would like to see in a candidate that might not come up on a resume.

The job posting asks for candidates with a college degree in public administration, planning, public affairs or other government-related area, and an advanced degree, preferably; and at least seven years as a city manager, deputy or assistant city manager or public service department director.

“The profile that we’re going to develop today will encompass the qualities, the characteristics, the experience and areas of expertise that you would find in an ideal candidate,” Smith said.

Smith said her department will use the Council’s feedback to help form questions for applicants, and the city hopes to bring candidates to Ellensburg for interviews by the end of the month. The city sent the job announcement to every city manager in the state, many assistant managers and city department heads and posted on relevant job websites, including Craigslist.

Personnel experience

Among the many different characteristics Council discussed — from communications skill to business acumen — Council member David Miller said the city should keep an eye toward candidates with experience dealing with unions and collective bargaining.

“I completely agree, that that background is important,” Council member Rich Elliott said. Although it would be hard to quantify, he added the city needs to identify a candidate who makes a believable long-term commitment to working in Ellensburg.

“Part of what I think has made our current city manager successful is the fact that in this case he thinks and acts five and 10 years out,” he said. “Somebody who’s here for two or three years tends to make decisions that look good for 18 months, or 24 months, and can cause a lot of long-term damage.”

Council member Jill Scheffer agreed.

“We should be selling Ellensburg as the pinnacle of somebody’s career,” she said.

Barkley said a city manager’s usual tenure is about six or seven years, and candidates will likely have that kind of timeline in mind.

Communication skills

Ellensburg, with the state’s labor laws and the city’s relatively unusual publicly owned utilities, may be a different beast for some managers, and the Council agreed they should remember that when looking for a candidate

Council members also agreed they’ll need to find someone who can communicate the city’s affairs clearly and accurately, from finance to operations.

“It’s important for me to have someone who has an ability for team building and thinks of the city as a team,” Council member Nancy Lillquist said.

Between seven official bosses, multiple department heads and an entire city’s worth of citizens, Scheffer said a manager ought to show an ability to delegate and trust staff to do their jobs without micromanaging.

“Somebody who’s respectful,” Council member Mary Morgan said. “Of the community and of the people and of the council, and the people around them. And I’m not just talking about respectful, polite in public sort of thing, but really comes across as someone who cares about what people say even if we choose to disagree.”

Barkley, she said, has been able to work with everyone. “He’s generous with his time, not to a fault, but he’s been generous with his time to anyone, and that’s important.”

Elliott agreed, and said that respectfulness ought to be apparent in a potential manager’s dealings with city staff.

“The employees are the city, they’re how we succeed,” he said. “On one side there’s an accountability piece, but there’s also the other side that you’re an advocate for them, you support them, you look out for their best interests.”

The preferred candidate, Council member Tony Aronica said, will be able to build relationships.

“Although the city manager could probably get a lot done without buy-in, it’s worth having it before we start the project. It’s worth taking time to invest in people or different organizations to get their input,” he said.

When to say no

Then-Mayor Bruce Tabb said a new city manager needs to be creative. He pointed to the Hubbell/Geddis Building purchase, and said there are plenty in the world who would have called the plan impossible.

Late in 2012, the city bought the historic downtown building with the plan to renovate it, bring in tenants and sell it back to the private sector, with the hope doing so will help revitalize downtown.

The new manager should be able to say, here’s what you want, here’s what’s possible, he said. “To me it’s a critical element.”

Still, it’s important for someone to be able to say no, Scheffer said. “To know enough to say, you know, this is — it might be crazy — but it’s within the realm of possibility. And somebody who can say, no, that’s just crazy.”

Still, Council agreed, a candidate needs to have a good handle on the city’s budget.

“What I’m looking for is someone who can manage conservatively but not in a diminished capacity,” Tabb said.

Both Lillquist and Scheffer noted a new manager ought to, simply, be likable.

“You have to be likable by at least seven,” Miller joked.

“No,” Barkley replied, with a nod toward what it takes to pass something on the Council. “Only four.”


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