The public will get a chance to comment on the hiring of an interim city manager for Phoenix.
The Phoenix City Council held a special meeting Monday and interviewed one candidate, former Ashland City Administrator Dave Kanner. The council then directed city staff to advertise the six-month position until Friday. Additional candidates will be interviewed at the regularly scheduled council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 20, when public input will be taken.
Former City Manager Jamie McLeod was fired on a 3-2 vote at a special meeting March 8. McLeod was in a probationary period after being hired in November. Three city department managers had voiced concerns about her leadership style.
“This whole thing with the decision to fire our city manager and the decision to appoint an interim has been highly irregular,” said Councilor Sarah Westover, who voted against firing McLeod. “Instead of having these in the light of day … we had two special meetings.”
The council moved the interviews to a regular meeting because the public should have an opportunity to weigh in, said Westover.
Kanner was fired by the Ashland City Council, at the request of Mayor John Stromberg, in November. The only reason given in a statement issued by the city was that "it's time for new administrative leadership of the city."
“The (Phoenix) mayor did invite Dave Kanner to come (to the Monday meeting). I was confused why we were even considering a candidate before we had considered what qualifications we’d like,” said Westover.
Mayor Chris Luz said Kanner’s interview helped determine what the city needs.
“He helped us with a number of things we need to do, like setting goals and planning and working with us on finance, which is a strong point of his,” said Luz.
Kanner would not be a candidate for the permanent position, because he receives Public Employee Retirement System benefits and is limited to working 1,039 hours a year for an Oregon governmental body, said Luz.
“(The meeting) wasn’t agendized to do public comment,” Luz said of the special session.
Westover and councilors Terry Baker, Bruce Sophie and Stuart Warren approved delaying the process to March 20. Councilor Jim Snyder was absent.
When Luz asked McLeod to resign prior to the March 8 session, he violated the city’s charter, which gives that power to the council, said Westover. Charter Section 35 (2) states, “A majority of the Council must approve and may remove the City Manager.”
McLeod said she was asked to resign by Luz at their regular weekly meeting held before the special session. She informed him that decision was the council’s prerogative and left the meeting. Luz became mayor in January, succeeding Jeff Bellah, after winning election in November.
“That type of unilateral decision-making was common as of January,” said McLeod. “I was often given directions to just do things where the decision-making was part of the council’s prerogative.”
The next manager will be the town’s third in 10 months following the termination of Steve Dahl in May 2016 after nearly three years of service in the position. Planning Director Matt Brinkley was appointed interim manager and served until November, when McLeod was hired.
“This kind of turnover hurts our ability as a city. It damages relationships with the community,” said Westover. “I think it's incredibly important to be accountable to the community we serve.”
Besides manager turnover, the city has seen changes in other top posts. Brinkley became Medford’s planning director in January, and a search is in process to fill that post. Finance Director Steve Weber moved to a similar position in Central Point in June, and Janette Boothe was promoted to fill that position.
— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.