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UPDATE 3: Lakewood City Council to hire new city manager Thursday as field narrowed to two

Post by Christian Hill / The News Tribune on June 17, 2013 at 4:45 pm with No Comments »
June 18, 2013 8:40 pm

UPDATE, 8:40 P.M.: The Lakewood City Council narrowed to two the number of finalists vying to become the new city manager after five hours of closed-door interviews and discussion Tuesday.

The council will decide between Mountlake Terrace City Manager John Caulfield and Deputy Pierce County Executive Kevin Phelps to run the day-to-day operations of Pierce County’s second largest city when they reconvene at 7 p.m. Thursday. Matthew Fulton, the former city manager of Coon Rapids, Minn., ended up the odd man out.

The council emerged from its closed-door sessions shortly after 8 p.m., and Mayor Don Anderson asked each member to announce which two finalists they want to proceed to the final meeting.

Caulfield received votes from all seven council members, Phelps received four and Fulton got three.

Anderson said after the meeting the deciding factors hinged on Fulton’s lack of familiarity with local issues and community players and comments received from members of the three panels that interviewed the finalists earlier in the day.

Two panels were made up of community members and one consisting of city staff. Interviews by the two community panels were open to the public, and at least two council members attended those sessions.

Council members said they gave the community a chance to participate and felt more comfortable going behind closed doors to conclude the daylong interview process. State law allows these closed-door meetings of public bodies to evaluate the qualifications of candidates for appointed office. The law bars the council from making a decision or deliberating toward one outside of public view.

“This is a very private time and we are going to asking some very difficult questions,” said Councilwoman Helen McGovern-Pilant, who recently remarried and changed her name.

The council’s search for the third city manager in Lakewood’s history began in February when former city manager Andrew Neiditz stepped down to lead South Sound 911, Pierce County’s new emergency dispatch agency.

UPDATE, 3:10 P.M.: The Lakewood City Council decided to go behind closed doors this afternoon to interview the three finalists vying to become the next city manager.

The council made the decision during an open meeting that followed interviews by three panels — two consisting of community members and one of city staff — earlier in the day. The panels reported their findings to the council members during an executive, or closed session, and at least two council members sat in during each of the panel interviews. Interviews by the two community panels were open to the public.

Council member said they gave the community a chance to participate and felt more comfortable going behind closed doors to conclude the interviews. State law allows these closed-door meetings of public bodies to evaluate the qualifications of candidates for appointed office. The law bars the council from making a decision in private or deliberating toward one.

“This is a very private time and we are going to asking some very difficult questions,” Councilwoman Helen McGovern said.

The finalists are Mountlake Terrace City Manager John Caulfield; Matthew Fulton, a consultant for Daly City, Calif., who served as city manager in Coon Rapids, Minn., from 2006 to 2012; and Deputy Pierce County Executive Kevin Phelps.

The interviews began at 3 p.m. and are anticipated to conclude at 6 p.m. At that time, the council indicated it would reconvene in public to discuss next steps and may talk about the merits of each of the finalists.

It appeared unlikely the council will make a hiring decision tonight. McGovern said when the council hired former city manager Andrew Neiditz, council members visited the finalists’ home communities as part of its research and hope that process would be repeated.

McGovern said she didn’t anticipate seeing “white smoke any time soon,” referring to how the papal conclave informs the world that it has selected a new pope.

The council did discuss possibly scheduling a special session on Thursday to make a hiring decision before they went behind closed doors.

UPDATE, 9:10 A.M.: The City Council changed up the schedule as the three finalists vying to become Lakewood’s new city manager ready for interviews that begin at 9:30 a.m.

The council decided to get input from members of three interview panels — two made up of community members and one consisting of city staff — on the finalists before conducting its own interviews.

The finalists are Mountlake Terrace City Manager John Caulfield; Matthew Fulton, a consultant for Daly City, Calif., who served as city manager in Coon Rapids, Minn., from 2006 to 2012; and Deputy Pierce County Executive Kevin Phelps.

The original plan was for the council to interview the finalists at the same time as the other panels. The change will allow individual council members to sit in on the interviews with the other panels.

The council held an orientation session with the panel members before the interviews began. The interviews with a lunch break will conclude at 1:30 p.m.

(The community panel interviews are open to the public. One panel will meet in Room 3A and the other will convene in Room 1E in City Hall, 6000 Main St. SW. The city staff panel is closed to the public.)

“We realized when you got here it is like jury duty without the $10,” Mayor Don Anderson quipped in brief remarks to the panel members.

The council will then hold a debriefing with the panel members in an executive, or closed, session. State law allows these closed-door meetings of public bodies to evaluate the qualifications of candidates for appointed office. The law bars the council from making a decision in private or deliberating toward one.

The council will then reconvene to discuss whether to hold its interviews with the finalists in closed or open session, or a mix of both. The interviews will take place between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. The council is then scheduled to meet in another executive session to discuss the finalists’ qualifications.

Councilman Jason Whalen said he doubted the council would make a hiring decision today to give the council members time to individual consider the finalists’ qualifications.

ORIGINAL POST: And then there were three.

The pool of finalists vying to become Lakewood’s next city manager became shorter Monday as W. Scott Larese, the former garrison commander at Fort Rucker, Ala., notified the city he was dropping out. He told the city’s consultant that he decided to focus on his current job, city spokesman Jeff Brewster said.

The city lost two finalists on Friday as Burien city manager Michael Martin and James Bourey, former city manager of Greenville, S.C., bid adieu after accepting jobs elsewhere. Martin is going to work for Lynden, while Bourey is taking the post in Newport News, Va., Brewster said.

Mountlake Terrace City Manager John Caulfield
Mountlake Terrace City Manager John Caulfield

That leaves a trio of finalists remaining as the hiring process that began with former city manager Andrew Neiditz‘s resignation in February enters the home stretch. The remaining candidates are Mountlake Terrace City Manager John Caulfield; Matthew Fulton, a consultant for Daly City, Calif., who served as city manager in Coon Rapids, Minn., from 2006 to 2012; and Deputy Pierce County Executive Kevin Phelps.

Residents can meet the candidates at a reception starting at 6 tonight, June 17, at the McGavick Conference Center at Clover Park Technical College.

Matthew Fulton, former city manager of Coon Rapids, Minn.
Matthew Fulton, former city manager of Coon Rapids, Minn.

The informal gathering precedes interviews Tuesday, June 18, with the finalists conducted by four panels made up of council members, city staff and community members, which will make up two panels. These interviews will begin at 10 a.m. and conclude at 3 p.m. with a break for lunch.

Deputy Pierce County Executive Kevin Phelps
Deputy Pierce County Executive Kevin Phelps

Prior to the interviews, hiring consultant Greg Prothman will meet with the City Council at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday to go over the day’s schedule and make any necessary adjustments.

At this time, these interviews are closed to the public, Brewster said.

The interview panel members will hold a debriefing from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the council is scheduled to meet in a closed, or executive, session to discuss the finalists’ qualifications starting at 3:30 p.m.

State law allowed these closed-door meetings so the council members can speak openly about the qualifications of an applicant for public employment. However, the members are barred from making a decision or deliberating toward one in private.

According to the State Attorney General’s Office: “The authority to ‘evaluate’ applicants in closed session allows a governing body to discuss the qualifications of applicants, not to choose which one to hire. Although the subsection expressly mandates that ‘final action hiring’ an applicant for employment be taken in open session, this does not mean that the governing body may take preliminary votes that eliminate candidates from consideration.

Brewster said the council could decide to hold an evening meeting for another interview with finalists, this time in public, but that still needs to be decided.

A hiring decision could come as early as Tuesday.

You’re invited to follow Christian Hill on Twitter @TNTchill.

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