OrangePolitics (OP) is covering Council’s (injudicious?) final sprint to hire a new manager.

OP’s Ruby Sinreich commented June 2nd on the quick narrowing of the field to a handful of white males.

Robert Peterson, June 5th, put on his tin foil hat and, I believe with some accuracy, laid out a scenario where one of the three putative candidates is a “ringer” . As he observed What we have here, on paper at least, is a superstar. What better way to insure his getting the position than to pit him against someone mired in controversy and someone with 20 years less experience.

This week, Council will spend 38 hours reviewing and then selecting, with minimal opportunities for direct public interaction, a new Town Manager. Unless, as Council member Mark Kleinschmidt avers with all confidence that if there’s any doubt at the end of the week that we’re not hiring the best person for this job, we will hire no one.”

What role will Chapel Hill’s citizenry play in the evaluation of “what’s best”?

With the limited information before us; the Herald Sun’s Q&A’s of Ragan, Stancil and Sean Stegall – their bio’s ( Stegall,Ragan, Stancil) posted on the town’s manager search site – an article from the News and Observer – some Googled references – one wonders how the greater citizenry is supposed to evaluate these candidates.

They won’t have much of an opportunity this final week as 36 of the 38 hours set aside for candidate consideration are closed, closed, closed.

“The Council will move that this session be closed under North Carolina General Statute 143-318.11(a)(6).”

The Council’s actions to fill this key position with much less public discussion and involvement than other recent issues, for instance the renaming of Airport Rd. to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., seems counter to our town’s stated desire for maximum governmental transparency. To cap the current process off by cloaking a majority of the discussion behind 143-318.11(a)(6), well, it puts the fine point to folks concerns.

The remaining two hours for public input? The Mayor will be juggling Council and public participation.

I don’t quite understand Mark K’s response to Ruby S’s rushed feeling by saying “I don’t know why you insist on calling it a runaway train” when so many of the search committee’s meetings were ill-scheduled (for reasonable public participation) or closed under 143-318.11(a)(6).

  • 10am, Weds. Mar. 15th, Mar. 22nd, Mar. 29th
  • 10am, Tues. Apr. 4th [CANCELLED], Apr. 11th
  • 8am, Tues. Apr. 18th; Sat. Apr. 22nd (the 1st possible one for me to attend)
  • CLOSED Mon. May 8th 10am ; Fri. May 19th, 2pm ;Tues. May 30th, 9am

Missing an opportunity for greater openness, the minutes of the open meetings were only available at Townhall and not published on the town’s website.

As someone that closely followed the process (as well as one can without easily accessible minutes of the search committee’s meetings), I disagree with Mark’s comment that

“The decisions regarding the development of the selection process were all held in open public meetings–I think there were at least two of those–and there was a public meeting to assist on development of a profile.”

Feb. 27th, Council discussed some exciting options like “a website with questionnaire for public comment” and a process structured so the “Community to meet with all finalists“. But, sadly, these proposed mechanisms for community outreach were subsequently discarded (the public commentary) and watered down (this week’s two-hour, Mayorally-filtered, candidate meet-n-greet).

Direct citizen commentary was limited to the regular 3 minute slot.

By the Mar. 6th meeting, OP poster and local personnel expert Anita Badrock (VP, Smithers and Associates) suggested two possible “processes” for selecting candidates. As she observed:

I recognize that we have a culture of openness in our community that the Council wants to respect, but I believe the citizens would understand and be better served by a process that would allow the best qualified candidates to confidentially explore this career opportunity to the maximum extent possible. Many of the most highly qualified applicants are probably the kind of professionals that aren’t unhappy with where they are currently, but are excited and intrigued about the possibilities and opportunities that exist in Chapel Hill. That’s the type of person that probably would not want his/her current employer to know (s)he’s looking.

As someone that’s hired their share of sensitive workers, I also recognize the need for some discretion.

Unfortunately, the concern for candidates confidentiality out-weighed public necessity and the more citizen-interactive options, factored into Process #2, were soon to be dispensed with.

As per Process #1, 30 or so folks – Council members, staff, the local political “usual suspects” (former Council members, business folk, the Chamber, etc.) – were “interviewed” to develop a candidate profile. These interviews constituted, I guess, a surrogate for the public feedback via website or a general solicitation for written/oral comments.

In another blow to timely transparency, it was only recently that the candidate profile was published.

Ruby is on to something when she remarks that the Council

has set-up this entire process without actively engaging or even encouraging the public’s input in a meaningful way (ie: before we were down to a choice between 3 straight, white, males). I’m not saying we should be sitting in on confidential meetings or anything, but it really shouldn’t surprise the Council if most Chapel Hill residents don’t even know this is going on, and rest of us are annoyed about how it’s going.

I’m concerned this is becoming a trend rather than an anomaly…

The Council was elected to make decisions. NC statute and local ordinances require minimal public participation in one of the hardest decisions a Council will make.

Only a growing Chapel Hill custom of transparency – part of what folks seriously or sarcastically call “Chapel Hill values” – obliges the Council to widen participation – to cast sunlight into the deepest shadows of the decision-making process – to reach beyond conservatively expedient approaches – in selecting a person, if recent history serves, that will have more influence on our community as any ephemeral elected Council member.

This week, to echo Ruby, the citizens of Chapel Hill will have a chance to see if Council continues a growing trend away from greater transparency and participation or if their behavior is an anomoly in their pell-mell rush to fill this key position.

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