Letter: What is the Process Laguna Uses to Hire a City Manager?

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With only two city managers hired in over forty years, Laguna may be a little rusty and may need to look around to find today’s best practices.

Last time, 10 years ago, the City hired a consultant “to assist in the development of the recruitment process and the evaluation of candidates.” Beyond that description in the 2010 staff report on the item, there is little detail about the specifics of the scope of the consultant’s work. How extensive was the search? What was the vetting process? What were the search criteria?

As the city website explains, Laguna operates under a Council-Manager form of government meaning the City Council provides overall policy direction and appoints a City Manager to implement the policies. There also wasn’t much of a job description in that 2010 staff report. The City has more detailed job descriptions for other city positions with detailed duties, minimum qualifications, knowledge, skills, and abilities including specifics such as ability to communicate effectively and work cooperatively. A comprehensive job description would be an important aid in the hiring process. If the job of the City Council is to provide policy direction, the job description should be clear on, among other things, who controls the agenda of items for City Council consideration. And who controls allocation of assignment of staff time to important policy issues.

It has been the practice of the Laguna Beach Unified School District to involve staff and the public in the process. The City should do the same.

A lot has changed in 40 years, including the increased emphasis on openness and transparency in government.

It’s a big job with responsibility for effective selection and management of over 280 full-time employees plus a similar number of part-time employees and management of nearly $100 million of taxpayer money. It is an opportunity to live and work in a great place, and it comes with great pay and benefits. It should be an attractive opportunity warranting an extensive search for the best candidates.

The people who live in Laguna pay a premium to be here and they deserve the best in city services.

At a minimum, an aggressive search for the best candidates is in order. But also, it is time for the staff and citizens to participate in the process.

John Thomas, Laguna Beach

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1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you John Thomas. In support of good government transparency, this statement is concerning. “Last time, 10 years ago, the City hired a consultant “to assist in the development of the recruitment process and the evaluation of candidates.” Beyond that description in the 2010 staff report on the item, there is little detail about the specifics of the scope of the consultant’s work. How extensive was the search? What was the vetting process? What were the search criteria??

    GREAT OBSERVATION AND QUESTIONS! It has been my experience in dealing with our city that unless I make a public record act request to get detailed background information, what I often get is vague and minimal information. The staff report you mention is an example of this. This type of documentation (or lack thereof) is a leadership and government culture issue. It puts the public in the position of doing all the research to form the questions that need to be asked. It’s concerning that Council members get the same staff reports and ask so few relevant questions. Especially since they get to vote on the items and so many hit the financial bottom line. We should promote transparency changes to agenda items starting with the next city manager. Facts and actions are important and should be provided to the public. It seems like our city has a history of taking more time to create a narrative than it does following best practices and building trust through transparency with residents.

    The replacement of our next City Manager is extremely important to all stockholders in LB. Not just the pro-development stockholders (represented by PAC LL and The Chamber) and we should not accept an “insider job” when it comes to a position this powerful in our city. The City Council must listen to the will of the people and hold an honest and open recruitment executive search. There’s absolutely no reason not to. It’s time to explore the city manager expertise and talent pool and find an unbiased, experienced, personable and engaging individual that will work on behalf of ALL residents of LB. This would be a great way to prove to constituents that we are a community in harmony and our future is in good hands.

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