The search to replace retiring Ashland City Manager Steve Corbitt should officially get under way later this month.
Ashland city commissioners are expected to hire a third party search firm July 18, which will advertise, accept applications and vet candidates for the post.
Commissioners will then interview a small number of applicants before making a selection, said Corbitt.
The process is expected to take two to four months. Corbitt said he will stay on the job until Oct. 1, although there is “the potential to extend it to the first of November.”
Officials have not determined if a search committee that includes other community members and employees, in addition to the five-member Board of Commissioners, will be formed. Regardless, the final decision will be up to the elected officials.
“I hope that we paint with a wide brush for applicants both internal and external,” said Commissioner Kevin Gunderson. “The idea of hiring a search firm is better than hiring someone like we did before,” he said, referring to the process used when longtime City Manager William “Bill” Fisher retired in 2006.
The city’s initial pick, retired U.S. Army Maj. Randy Robertson, lasted less than eight months. He resigned having lost the support of elected officials. When Robertson was selected, a hiring committee of city officials, selected residents and business leaders chose, researched and interviewed the candidates as opposed to a third-party company.
Corbitt, who served as acting city manager immediately before Robertson was hired and then again following his departure, was eventually tapped to fill the post full-time.
“I think this is the most important decision we will make during this term,” said Gunderson, the longest-serving commissioner. “I am looking for a person who will provide the leadership we have now, plus expand on some new ideas.”
Gunderson continued: “I think the applicant is going to have some new ideas on how we do things differently or how other cities do things — that doesn’t mean they are right are wrong. I’m always reading other (news)papers to see how other people are doing things.”
In addition, Gunderson said the ideal candidate would have experience dealing with labor unions, human resources, and budgets.
Mayor Chuck Charles said he too believes a professional search firm is the best way to begin the process.
“We have to do it right this time,” he said. “I’d like to see a leader that is very innovative. We need to reinvent ourselves. Instead of being followers, we need to be the leaders and start leading the way. That is the attitude I am going to look for in the person I’d like to have in there. To be able to work with all the commissioners and myself to help reinvent and to get us moving again.”
Charles said the ideal candidate will need to “understand the local culture,” but added, “We do need to cast the net bigger” than just locals. “I don’t want to go in there with any preconceived notion of the direction we want it to go. We need to let it take its proper course.”
Getting the right person for the job, with right skills and personality, Charles said, “is critical. They do the day-to-day operation of the city takes many directions of day-to-day operations by themselves. Of course, the commission and the mayor give that direction to go and they have to take and carry out that vision.”
Jobs, quality-of-life issues, making Ashland look good and having “state of the art stuff” like technology, along with recruiting families and businesses, all go into his vision of “making Ashland the city of choice,” Charles said. “We have to have something to offer, and that is what we need to focus on.”.
“I would like to see a continuation of the good qualities we have in our city manager now,” said Commissioner Cheryl Spriggs, who agreed a third party search firm was also a “really good idea. It is a long process, because this is a key position to the city.
“I’d like to find someone who loves the city like the current city manager and as we all do, and has the city’s best interest at heart,” she said. “We need to be astute about what we are doing, and look for qualities that we think will mesh well with the type of government we have here. I’m anxious to see who we have apply and if we have any local people.”
“No stone is going to go unturned,” said Commissioner Marty Gute. “We are going to look for the best appliant we can. Some people look good on paper but, if you are not from around here, you just don’t work out,” he said, noting things are “just different” here.
Gute said he is looking for a “well-rounded candidate, someone who is balanced and experienced in different things. I want someone who is a uniter.”
“I would want to make sure they have the appropriate background in finance, in managing people and that they understand the city manager form of government. I would really prefer to have someone who knows our community and our people and has a vision for the City of Ashland,” said Commissioner Larry Brown, who also said he will be looking for someone who has communication and leadership skills and “the ability to get people to do things that they normally couldn’t or wouldn’t.”
He said a new city manager needs to “understand their role as city manager. He or she will have a great staff to work with and, as a board, we need to set a vision and expectation and goals for a city manager.”
In the end, though, Brown is sure the right decision will be made.
“I have all the confidence in my fellow commissioners and the mayor. We will continue to grow and prosper.”
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by firstname.lastname@example.org.