The Ripon Common Council decided upon a timetable for the process of hiring its next city administrator last week Tuesday after hearing two options from its search firm.
Chris Swartz and Darrell Hofland of Public Administration Associates (PAA), LLC. out of Whitewater, Wis., presented information on one that would get the process going quicker and another that would allow the city more time before starting the recruitment stage.
The Common Council chose the former, which would see text announcements placed online with websites specified in the proposal Nov. 2 and a video position announcement featuring Mayor Ted Grant being posted on social media platforms Nov. 6.
Application materials would then be due to PAA Dec. 4, with the Common Council meeting to review mini-resumes and select six to 10 semi-finalists Dec. 8 during a closed session meeting. After that, there is about a month (Dec. 9 to Jan. 5) for the semi-finalists to prepare semi-finalists video interviews and the PAA to conduct semi-finalist reference interviews/reports on each candidate.
The Common Council is slated to review that information Jan. 12 in closed session and will select four or five finalists, with each being notified the following day.
Finalists likely then will come to Ripon Jan. 29 and 30 for interviews with Common Council, staff and possibly the community. The council will decide at a later meeting what community input, if any, it will want to receive in its city administrator search.
Ald. Jolene Schatzinger was in favor of the city involving the community, but no decision was made and there was no discussion among other aldermen about the topic last week.
“I’ll just state right now that I think if we don’t, we’re selling ourselves short, and if other communities aren’t good for them. Maybe we will stand out in a positive way,” she said.
After the finalists come to Ripon, the Common Council would then pick its top candidate and formally approve an employment agreement with the new city administrator at a meeting.
The approximate start date for the new city administrator is March 15, so that the individual can have a couple of weeks to work with retiring City Administrator Lori Rich before her last day on April 7.
Swartz noted he felt like this timeline would work out well for the city of Ripon as it would give it time to find the right candidate and avoid a “tweener period” between Dec. 10 and Jan. 1, when the Whitewater search firm doesn’t like to recruit over the holidays.
The second option would not have seen the position posted until around mid-December, with applications being due Jan. 21 and the finalist not being selected until around Feb. 18.
“We believe that first alternative is very workable,” Swartz said, noting it provides Ripon with flexibility if it doesn’t find someone in the first round that it likes and wants to begin the process again, and also allows for a good period of active recruitment.
Grant asked Swartz and Hofland if the month and a half gap between selecting the finalists and the position starting causes any concern for candidates having to wait that long to start.
They explained there’s usually not too much to be worried about as candidates usually have to give a 30- to 45-day notice at their prior place of employment, if not longer.
Crafting the position
After choosing the quicker timetable of the two options, the Common Council and department heads were asked to fill out a survey by Monday which ranks what the five most important areas of experience and personal qualities that the new city administrator should possess.
From that list, PAA will form the position announcement and position profile that it posts.
Ald. Benjamin Morrison noted he filled out his assessment by picking the areas Ripon could improve the most, not the areas it already is doing well in such as public safety.
The Common Council approved a motion to include a salary range of $85,000 to $115,000 for the new city administrator posting. Initially, it had a range of $80,000 to $115,000 based on what similar-sized cities were paying their city administrators but decided to bump it up.
“We’re competing against the bigger communities and we’re competing against other states who have much higher salaries,” Swartz said. “Minnesota, Illinois, for example, their assistants are making $80 to $90,000; that’s why we don’t recruit or we don’t get a lot of folks coming up here from Illinois ... I’ll just give you my [opinion]: $80,000 is a little low to show; I think it may turn people off right away. I’m not saying you have to go too much [higher]. I think you’re $115, is good, but $85, or $90, I think would be a better lower number if that’s OK with the council.”
Grant asked if there was some place in the announcement to post about the low cost of living in Ripon as it is a lot cheaper than a lot of the other areas in the state, as well as Illinois.
He also noted he would personally suggest $85,000 to $110,000 or $115,000.
“We are currently ... dead last for cities bigger and smaller than us, which ... is not terribly inviting to candidates. We have a nice community, but it only goes so far,” Grant said.
The Common Council ultimately decided going with $115,00 as the higher end of the range as it doesn’t mean it has to pay a candidate that, but leaves the option open.
“I think $115, shows that we are valuing this position and if we get a superstar that is really good in grant writing and they’re going to bring money to our city, they might be worth it,” Schatzinger said before making a motion to approve the range of $85,000 to $115,000, which passed unanimously.
The Common Council also approved a motion to empower a group consisting of City Attorney Lud Wurtz, Council President Al Schaeder, Mayor Ted Grant and City Administrator Lori Rich to stay in communication with PAA during the process. The group would not be in charge of making decisions and/or voting on matters, but rather making sure the process keeps moving.
“There may be other discussions we need to have with this group going forward,” said Schraeder, who pitched the idea of empowering a group. “At least it ensures that we have a representative group that can continue to keep the process steadily moving forward.”
“Things like drafting the contract and particulars in the contract, that will all come back to the body,” Wurtz said. “But the idea that we keep it rolling and flowing without them saying, ‘Well, we’ve got to take this to the full body. You’re going to see it all, you’re going to make the final decision, but I think what Al’s saying makes sense.”