By Frank Lewis
September 10, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
Portsmouth City Council is poised for a busy week involving the process of selecting a city manager. Last week, City Council narrowed their choices down from 59 applications to three. Derek Allen, village administrator of Delta, Ohio, Patti Bates, a village administrator in Williamsburg, Ohio and Steve Golnar, a former city manager of Rawlins, Wyoming.
Council is scheduled to have a special meeting for the purpose of interviewing the three today at 9 a.m. at the Loft’s Conference Center. According to the agenda, they will allow statements from citizens on the subject of the special meeting, then retire into executive session, breaking only for lunch, reconvening until the end of the day. Wednesday, the process resumes at 8 a.m., again in the Loft’s Conference Center. They will again go directly into executive session until they adjourn for the day. They would presumably vote on the position at the next Portsmouth City Council meeting.
Several members of Portsmouth City Council have specific ideas about what they are looking for in a city manager. The three finalists were in town Monday, with an opportunity for the Daily Times to talk with Council members as to what traits and experiences they would like to see in the person they select for the job.
“Basically somebody that can get our community and our government organized, and all on the same page, trying to move this town forward,” Second Ward Councilman Rich Saddler said. “In my opinion we’ve had a lot of problems throughout the years, of communications, and just a lot of things that should be done in our community like community development, promoting our town, different things like that.”
Steve Sturgill, President of Portsmouth City Council, has been somewhat critical of the change from the current strong mayor form of government to the council/city manager form, but says he has an open mind about the selection process.
“As I look at the three candidates that have been called in, one of the things I will try to accomplish is to sit down, have the opportunity to sit across the table from them, look them in the eye, ask them questions, let them answer as honest as they possibly can about their desire to come to Portsmouth and be our city manager,” Sturgill said. “It is a very difficult undertaking at a very strenuous time, and I think it’s important, that, not only I, but the other five members of Council will take a vote. I’ll have the opportunity over next couple of days to sit and talk and listen and watch how they interact with other people in the community; how they interact with the staff.”
Saddler said he also would like to see an emphasis on bringing businesses and industry to the community.
“Someone who can encourage businesses to come here,” Saddler said. “I know I have never seen or heard of anything where we’ve reached out to different corporations or industry to try to attract them to our area. With a city manager, we will have a person that is educated, and knows community development, and deals with personnel issues, economic development, and a person that has experience with public administration.”
Third Ward Councilman Kevin E. Johnson said he has a process in mind that works for making any determination.
“There are several qualities I’ll want to review. First, Let’s examine the candidate’s past history and performance. There’s an old saying, ‘If you want to know a person’s future, look at their past,’ secondly, Let’s take a look at what the candidate would do that’s not being done now, and what they wouldn’t do that we’re currently doing now,” Kevin E. Johnson said. “Third, I would like to know the candidate’s plan for managing department heads and negotiating with the respective unions in our city. Fourth, I am very interested in the candidate’s knowledge on obtaining and securing grants.”
Johnson summarized his priorities as experience, goals, leadership and vision.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Kalb summed up his expectations.
“I’m looking for a qualified individual that has a track record of being involved in the successful management of a city comparable to Portsmouth,” Kalb said.
Sturgill said City Council basically has no wiggle room when it comes to making the right decision.
“The overriding issue that we have to deal with is, we have to do this right the first time,” Sturgill said. “I think over the course of the last year that has really been my goal. I sometimes question why we did the city manager thing, but it’s one of those things now that I think - it’s here, the opportunity is upon us. We do have issues that might be difficult to overcome, and I’m looking for someone who can help this city grow. Someone who has had more experience in dealing with the issues of governing than some of the mayors that we have had over the course of the last 10-12 years.”
Saddler said people should understand the move to the city manager form of government may not change things immediately.
“It will help the community in the long run,” Saddler said. “Of course nothing can happen overnight, but I think Portsmouth has been placed in a hole, so to speak, for quite a few years, and it’s going to take a few years to get back out of that hole, and even get back into a place to where we can move forward and hopefully put a lot of this negativity behind us.”
Sturgill echoed Saddler’s thoughts.
“It is a very difficult job,” Sturgill said. “Whoever gets the job is going to be initially overwhelmed. But I hope they have a background and experience to make this work for them as well as the citizens of Portsmouth.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT