Council members look to handle process differently this time around.
So far, the City of Crookston has received only two applications for its city administrator position, vacant since the city council in August terminated the contract of Tony Chladek. But with an application deadline of Sept. 30, Interim Administrator/Public Works Director Pat Kelly told council members at a Ways & Means Committee meeting Monday evening that even though the city has been advertising the position widely for more than two weeks, most applicants typically wait until the final days to submit their portfolios.
"The week of Sept. 23 will really tell us a lot," Kelly said.
Still, Kelly was joined by others around the conference room table in figuring that the position might end up attracting only 10 or 15 applicants. "But it's the quality of those applicants that means everything, obviously," Kelly added.
When the council picked Chladek from five finalists in late 2011 – he started in February 2012 – it was the culmination of an advertising and screening process led by an outside consultant. During Monday's discussion, it became clear that council members and city officials don't want to go down that road again. Instead, Kelly has mapped out a process that more closely resembles the process that led to the hiring of Aaron Parrish, who was viewed widely as a successful administrator in Crookston before resigning after seven years to take an administrator position in Forest Lake, Minn. Chladek was hired as Parrish's successor. Before Parrish was hired, the city received some outside advice, but the council largely led the process and didn't pay a significant fee to a search firm.
The council on Monday decided that they all want to be involved in the interviews, which will likely be held over a Friday and Saturday in early November, with a Friday evening meet-and-greet with the finalists being followed by interviews on Saturday. But unlike last time, when Chladek was selected moments after the interviews concluded, without any further discussion among council members, council members agree that they don't want to feel rushed this time around. Kelly, who participated in the interviews last time as well, agreed he felt things could have been handled better.
"I'll be honest, the last time, the vote was so sudden without council discussion that I felt, 'Why am I here? What input did I have on this?'" Kelly said.
The public will have an opportunity to attend the meet and greet to informally meet the finalists and their families. During the interviews, there will also be department heads present who won't have a vote, but, Kelly said, will serve as more of a "red flag committee" that will have an opportunity to speak up at some point if they see any red flags with any particular interviewees.
"Most of that comes down to basically, will this person fit in?" Kelly said. "You can have the best resume in the world, but it's going to be a tough row to hoe if you just don't fit in."
As things stand now, Kelly will lead the information gathering effort after the application window closes, getting information on the qualified applicants to council members in advance of an Oct. 14 Ways & Means Committee meeting, at which the council, the hope is, will whittle the field down to those it wants to interview. Interviews would take place a couple weeks later, maybe Nov. 1-2.
Council members don't want to set anything in stone, however; they prefer to wait and see how deep the applicant pool is, and how close or far away the applicants are from Crookston. "Let's maintain a degree of flexibility; let's see what we get and let that determine the screening process," Ward 1 Council Member Tom Jorgens said. "The latter portion of this process is most important. If we're going to hire someone we don't know from far away, I think we should send a couple people there first to spend a day. We should have done that last time, frankly. We need to find out what the perceptions are of this person in their environment."
Chladek had been unemployed for almost a year before being hired in Crookston, after resigning from an administrator position in Wisconsin in the wake of an unfavorable performance review.