The city of Ashland could have used a League of Oregon Cities recruitment service for less than half the $21,500 Ashland is paying a recruiting firm to help find a new city administrator.

The city of Ashland could have used a League of Oregon Cities recruitment service for less than half the $21,500 Ashland is paying a recruiting firm to help find a new city administrator.

However, the league's services would not have been as comprehensive as those of The Waters Consulting Group, Inc., a Texas-based recruiting firm being used by the city on a nationwide hunt to replace outgoing City Administrator Martha Bennett.

Bennett is leaving at the end of this month to become the chief operating officer for the regional government Portland Metro.

The League of Oregon Cities is helping the city of Grants Pass in a nationwide hunt for a new city manager for a fee of $10,000, league staff members said.

Prices are based on a city's size and the mix of services provided, league staff members said.

"Our process is different than what private sector consultants provide. We do not do the active recruitment work that they do and we do not have the contact networks that they have," League of Oregon Cities Executive Director Mike McCauley said in an email.

Standard recruitment services provided by the league include developing a recruitment timeline, meeting with a city council to draft a position profile, drafting and placing the position advertisement, receiving applications, screening applications down to those that fit the position profile and performing background checks on finalists, according to the League of Oregon Cities' website.

City of Ashland Human Resources Director Tina Gray said city officials respect the work of the league.

She said the city has had positive experiences in the past using Waters Consulting Group, Inc. on nationwide hunts to fill department head positions.

The League of Oregon Cities provides recruitment services for city administrator and city manager hunts but generally does not provide services for lower-level positions, McCauley said.

When looking at recruitment service options for the city administrator search, Gray said city officials decided that a private recruitment firm provides services that offer significant value to the city.

Waters Consulting Group, Inc. works with the city of Ashland and community members to develop a candidate profile, creates a full-color brochure, places ads in national publications and on websites, does extensive outreach and performs a background investigation and reference check on the finalist, Gray said.

The firm looks at Ashland's political, social and economic climate and actively recruits candidates who would have a high likelihood of succeeding as a city administrator here, Gray said.

"Recruitment firms have a vast network of candidates and contacts, so they are able to reach professionals that may not have even been considering a move," Gray said in an email.

She said the Waters Consulting Group identifies each candidate's strengths and weaknesses.

"We know whether he or she is good with budgets, can accept direction from an elected body, or can work with diverse political viewpoints before they are ever interviewed by the City," Gray said.

A recruitment consultant from the firm will also be in Ashland during a two-day interview and selection process with finalists, she said.

At a Sept. 20 meeting, the Ashland City Council agreed with a city staff recommendation to use the recruiting firm for the city administrator search and unanimously authorized spending $21,500 for the work.

The item was on the council's consent agenda, an area generally for noncontroversial items that win council approval with little discussion.

Councilors approved the spending without comment.

City Councilor David Chapman said this week that he did not know that the League of Oregon Cities offers city administrator recruitment services.

He said his preference would be that the city of Ashland hunt for a new city administrator on its own.

"I went along with what management had decided to do," Chapman said. "Maybe I'm guilty of not looking into it."

However, Chapman said it will be a difficult task to find a good replacement for Bennett.

"I had hoped Martha would stay longer. She's such a good fit. I understand that she needs to go where her career takes her. The hardest thing will be to replace her," Chapman said.

Bennett became Ashland's city administrator in 2006.

Her move to the Portland Metro chief operating officer post will be a move up on her career ladder.

In 2008, the city of Ashland paid The Waters Consulting Group $22,789 to hunt for an information technology department head. The person hired for that job left before two years.

City officials decided to eliminate that position and create an assistant city administrator post.

The Waters Consulting Group, Inc. will hunt for a person to fill that new position for a reduced fee of $8,750 plus expenses because the information technology director left before two years on the job.

In the past several years, the city of Ashland has paid recruiting firms to help fill jobs that include police chief, fire chief, information technology director and public works director.

In 2010, the city of Ashland saved at least $20,000 on recruiting services for a new city attorney. City staff members said they could identify and reach potential candidates on their own because of the "defined labor pool."

David Lohman, who was part of a Medford and Ashland-based legal firm, was hired as Ashland's city attorney earlier this year.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.