It’s back to square one in the City of San Leandro’s search for a new CEO.
After failing to find someone to replace the current city manager, Stephen Hollister, City Council announced on Monday that it would appoint assistant city manager Lianne Marshall to the job until a permanent replacement can be found. Hollister is retiring at the end of the month.
Earlier this year, city officials had hoped they could avoid the $20,000-$25,000 price tag that a head hunting firm would have likely charged by doing the recruiting in-house. Nevertheless, the strategy backfired when the pool of promising candidates dwindled to just one, and the council decided to scrap the whole process and start over — this time with the help of a search firm.
Some council members and former city leaders suggested the strategy was ill-advised.
“I think they made a big mistake,” said mayor emeritus Shelia Young, who held the mayor’s seat from 1998 to 2006, and was District 2 council member for two years before that.
“You cannot expect a mayor and city council members, none of whom are full time, to do this process the way it should be done,” she said.
Young said she suspected some potential candidates didn’t apply because they may have viewed the recruiting process as flawed.
After Hollister announced his retirement in December (on the same day former mayor Tony Santos gave his exit speech, likely not a coincidence), the city sent out a request for bids from search firms to advise on hiring a new city manager. But it cancelled the request in February after the City Council decided to handle the hiring process internally.
The council formed an ad hoc committee, made up of Mayor Stephen Cassidy and council members Ursula Reed and Diana Souza, to oversee the process. Over 30 people applied for the job, according to Cassidy, and six were chosen for interviews.
Of those six, two backed out before an interview.
After the remaining four candidates were interviewed, two were discarded, and one accepted another job, leaving just one option. Rather than go with the last man (or woman) standing, the council opted to appoint assistant city manager Marshall as interim city manager and start the search over, this time with a search firm.
Several council members defended the process, saying the intentions were good.
“I think if we would have been able to find the right person, that would have saved the city money,” Souza said. “At the time, it was the right choice.”
Council member Jim Prola called it “a good faith effort,” but said he had learned the value of using search firms to appoint high-level administrators after being involved in several such searches at other agencies and organizations.
“Usually that’s the one area where you don’t try to save money,” Prola said. “Because it is so important, you have to be willing to use a professional.”
None of the city’s current employees applied for the job of city manager, putting the city in new territory. In the past, the city manager has been promoted from within city government (although searches for outside candidates have been carried out), according to John Jermanis, who served as city manager from 1997 to 2008.
When Jermanis retired in 2008, Hollister, who was then assistant city manager, and who had been recruited for that position by a search firm, was appointed interim city manager. He was permanently appointed to the job several months later.
Marshall, the city’s new interim city manager, declined to discuss why she hadn’t applied for the job during the recent search.
Former city manager Jermanis said the past practice of promoting internal candidates for the city’s top job helped ensure that the person was familiar with the city and the community, and would maintain continuity with regard to local government operations.
“But if you’re looking for fresh perspective, you may need to bring in someone from outside,” Jermanis said.
Council member Souza said looking outside city hall for a new manager wasn’t “necessarily a bad thing.”
“It gives us an opportunity to have new eyes look at things and maybe look at things differently,” Souza said. “I think it’s about finding the right person. Whether it’s internal or external is less important.”
Council member Joyce Starosciak declined to talk about the hiring process since it is ongoing. “We have to work together until it’s done,” she said.
Starosciak said finding the right person to lead the city into the future was one of the council’s most important jobs. The city manager is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the city, and often serves through multiple city councils and mayorships.
“It’s very unusual to have the responsibility to hire a city manager,” she said, “so I take it very seriously.”