• The Experts Speak : Facts Oxford Citizens Need To Know About Hiring A New Town Manager

    March 21, 2024
    No Comments

    On Tuesday, March 12, 2024, Oxford held a workshop on hiring a new town manager. A lot of time was spent on questioning the nuts-and-bolts process of hiring a new Town Manager leaving no time to discuss other critical issues such as the ethics involved in hiring such an influential position in the town.

    It's important to understand that most public entities, school systems, counties, towns, etc. use services to hire their key executives. This allows them to conduct a wide search and saves them time and money culling through candidates who don't fit the qualifications or skill set needed. For example, when Talbot Superintendent Kelly Griffith retired, the Talbot County School Board conducted a national search using a service provided by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education:

    MABE Superintendent Search -Talbot County Accepting Applications - Talbot County Public Schools (tcps.k12.md.us)

    Appointed Commissioner Susan Delean Botkin was the President of the School Board when that search and subsequent hiring happened. Based on recent comments, she appears to have flipped flopped on the value of a similar process in the hiring of a new Oxford Town Manager.

    Here is MABE's explanation of the hiring process:

    School Boards conduct these searches via an objective, third party professional group in order to make sure schools get the best candidates and can eliminate any favoritism, nepotism, or bias in the process. This is why the Talbot County School Board conducted their search in this manner.

    There are many professional organizations that offer help with hiring charging fees that can vary depending on the focus of the organization. Contingency Search Firms are paid only if a candidate they present is hired and their fees are usually 20% to 30% of the candidate's first year salary. Hybrid “Container” Search Firms usually charge a fixed fee (average $8,000) plus a percentage of the candidate’s first-year salary (around 20-25%).

    Other firms such as Executive Search Research Firms charge hourly or per candidate found rates as well as $30,000 -$40,000 for ongoing candidate research support such as background checking and candidate vetting.

    On March 12th, the town of Oxford was told that they could expect a fee of approximately $20,000 for a firm to conduct the search for a town manager. Not a high fee for a town that pays their town manager $186,000 a year.

    After that workshop many citizens were left with questions about the ethics of the process Oxford might use to hire a new town manager. The Easton Gazette contacted the consultants who conducted the Tuesday afternoon workshop and asked them some questions that didn't get asked and answered during the session.

    The following three questions were answered by David Deutsch, Executive Recruiter, Mercer Group Associates. His professional background can be found at the end of this article.

    1. I understand the Town of Oxford has used Indeed.com as a search tool. Why is Indeed.com NOT the best way to advertise? Indeed.com may be suitable for advertising certain positions, but I would suggest it is not a helpful tool in a town manager search. That platform uses algorithms and key words to provide responses. If a key word is “manager”, you are likely to receive applicants that have absolutely no experience in local government, but they might be a “manager”. Manager of what? Auto parts store? A coffee shop? Nothing wrong with those jobs, but the “juice isn’t worth the squeeze” in reviewing those kinds of resumes.
    2. What does a recruiter do, other than advertise? First of all, advertising does not occur until the position profile is prepared, and a brochure is prepared that describes the various aspects of the Town and the position. The recruiter will advertise in various publications, plus using a database we have developed, we would reach out to various professionals that we believe will be strong candidates. The recruiter reviews all applications, develops a list of semi-finalists for review by the Commission. Background checks are conducted, including social media and internet activity, criminal and credit checks, and validation of educational attainment. The recruiter works with the governing body to reduce the field to an interview group (usually three or four applicants). The recruiter facilitates an employment agreement if requested by the Commission.
    3. If we hire a recruiter, is it likely that we will have a rich candidate pool? There are never guarantees about the depth of applicant pools. You should expect a deeper applicant pool with a recruiter due to the outreach the recruiter performs. Recruiters know professionals in local government across the country, and those contacts are useful to us in promoting a jurisdiction as a place to work. It is the difference between an active search with a recruiter, and a fairly passive search being conducted in-house. A recruiter knows how to “cast a wide net” for applicants.

    Some of the most pressing questions citizens have about the hiring process for a new town manager in Oxford are about the ethics of the search. The Commissioners have not yet defined the process for the hiring and no posting has been made as of today. Citizens are concerned that this hiring should be conducted in an ethical, careful, transparent, and professional manner.

    Citizens also want to know who should be entrusted with the interviewing and hiring of candidates. Given the short time the Oxford Commissioners allotted for this important discussion during the workshop, we asked David Deutsch, Carol Kachadoorian, and Donald Borut to respond to these additional questions. You can see their professional qualifications at the end of this article. None of these consultants have been contacted to provide their paid services to the town and none of them have promoted themselves to be hired in the process. Here are their answers:

    What ethical questions are raised when you have a search for a key executive/employee in a municipality?

    David Deutsch: There are only ethical issues if the governing body does not have faith that the staffer assigned the project will not handle the assignment totally above board. Internal and external candidates need to be treated the same. If an in-house recruitment occurs, the scope of the assignment needs to be explicitly detailed by the Commission.

    Carol Kachadoorian: The ethical questions revolve around ensuring the recruitment process is open, fair, and transparent, and respects candidate confidentiality. Perhaps most importantly, an ethical recruitment process is one in which the  outcome is not predetermined. A number of years ago, I applied for the position of assistant city manager in the city where my sister and her family, and my parents lived. In spite of being told that the city manager had created the position for his friend who was retiring from the bank, I applied for it and was interviewed through a process led by city staff. The city manager’s friend was indeed hired and worked in the position for several years until he retired a second time. The position was then abolished. Needless to say, the recruitment process described above is highly unethical.

    You may find it useful to see the International City and County Management Association code of ethics. I always found it an important compass for my work in local government. (Links included below)

    If you were Town Manager, would you conduct the search for your replacement?

    David Deutsch: If I were the Town Manager and I was directed to conduct the search for my successor, I would do it, after a detailed set of expectations were agreed to. Agreed upon requests for information by the Commission must be complied with, and confidentiality needs to be observed as well.

    Editor's Note: Since this comment was in opposition to the responses of the other two consultants, we decided to ask other town/county/professional entities what they thought of a retiring Town Manager being "directed" to conduct the search for his/her successor. They said that even though the commissioners may have asked the retiring manager to complete the search, it is the responsibility of professionals to act with honesty and integrity. There might be consequences for saying "no" to one's bosses, but a departing town manager owes nothing to the town if not honesty. Saying "no" to something that is not appropriate, such as interviewing one's replacement, is being honest and maintaining one's own professional integrity.

    Carol Kachadoorian: I would not be, and have never been, involved in selecting my replacement regardless of the position I held. This is the responsibility of the elected officials or the hiring authority. My experience is that on a variety of important matters such as this, relying on someone who has no stake in the outcome other than guiding the process results in the best outcome. A professional recruitment firm serves as a ‘third party neutral’ to guide the process and support the elected officials whose responsibility is to make the hiring decision. Given the depth of their experience, a professional recruiter can provide resources, advice, and have access to a wider pool of qualified professional candidates.

    Is it common practice for a retiring Town Manager to lead the process for selecting their successor?

    Don Borut: No city, town, or village with which I am familiar has looked to their retiring manager to lead a search process.  It is not appropriate and is incompatible with good governance practices.

    The responsibility for recruiting and hiring a Town Manager is one if not the most fundamental responsibilities of a town Commission and not one to be assigned to a former employee, no matter how much respect and regard they might have for that person. In the public sector it is critical to adopt a transparent process, one that can be defended and affirmed to the town’s citizens. It is important to convey that the search process is not tied to a judgment of the retiring manager, even when there is respect and appreciation for that person’s service to the town.

    In addition to following good governance and a transparent process, there is a legitimate question of independence and objectivity for any individuals retiring from a position to separate their tenure in the job from wanting to identify candidates with a similar management perspective, style, or skill set as themselves. It is simply not compatible with the benefits of an independent process in service to the Commission.

    As I shared at the meeting, for most Commissions and City Councils this may be the
    first time they have recruited a Town Manager.  Engaging an executive search firm with the expertise and experience in conducting a search supports an open and transparent process by engaging the Commission in a discussion of the community’s needs, in identify expertise and skills sets, and in developing a relevant position description. Stated differently, the Commission benefits from a search firm that helps think through the town's executive leadership needs and the options to consider without a personal agenda or even an unconscious bias in preparing a position description and screening candidates for the Commission to consider.

    Again, it is not an appropriate or a good governing practice in the best interest of the Commissioners and the community to ask a former Town Manager to lead the search process for a successor.

    In order to provide another perspective, we contacted towns/officials in the area regarding their hiring practices.

    We contacted officials from St. Michaels, Berlin, and Talbot County.

    Question: What is the process you use to hire your top town/county administrator?

    St. Michaels, Md. Rob Straebel, Town Administrator: I believe the town did a nationwide search, and Commissioners approved the hiring of the Town Administrator.

    Berlin, Md, Kelsey Jensen, Human Resources Director:

    We have used firms in the past to fill the Town Administrator role, but not always. We have not used firms for Department Heads though. For all upper management roles, we try to promote a staff member from within the organization. Our handbook states that any positions above entry level will be open to internal staff members first and if there is no interest or we do not feel there is a qualified candidate for the role we will then source the position.

    As far as who is involved, historically for the Town Administrator, the Mayor, Human Resources, and up to two council members have been involved in the interview process. For Department Heads, the interview panel would consist of the Mayor, Human Resources, and the Town Administrator. If a Councilmember wished to be involved in the process, I am sure that would be fine as well, but typically it is the three individuals listed. As Mayor Tyndall stated, positions like the Town Administrator and Department Heads are appointed by the Mayor and require the approval of a majority (3/5) of the Council.

    Talbot County, Keasha Haythe, County Council: We would likely use a hiring consultant. The use of a third-party search group helps not only with the search in getting top candidates, but also makes the interview process fair. In this day of so many State and Federal rules and regulations regarding the hiring of public employees, local agencies need the guidance of professionals in the human resources field to manage this process. This guidance can also help assure that all the interviews are conducted using the same questions and circumstances to assure that every applicant is given an equal shot at the job regardless of connections to interviewers of the jurisdiction.

    The bottom line appears to be that towns and counties rely on expansive searches for their top administrative employees including national searches by hiring/recruiting firms. This guarantees them the best candidates and an unbiased process for hiring. Plus, it assures the local communities that the process is transparent, making it worth the time and expense employed in the search.

    It also seems that having outgoing staff interview their replacements is not a widely accepted, ethical practice.

    Transparency and ethics in town business and affairs are what the citizens of Oxford have been seeking for over a year. They want those values included when hiring a new Town Manager.

    As of today, March 21, 2024, the Town Manager job opening is NOT posted on the Oxford Town Website.


    About ICMA | icma.org


    Carol Katchadoorian: Carol has an extensive resume of management experience. She has a Master's Degree in Public Administration, Local Government. She was the Manager of Customer Access Programs for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for 11 years, Full Time Lead and Senior Planner for Older Adult Mobility Practice for Toole Design Group for 12 years, and since 2020 is the Founder of dblTilde Collaborative who are skilled transportation pros working on small area active transportation plans. She lives in Oxford.

    David Deutsch: Mr. Deutsch is a career city manager with over 40 years' experience. He was Chief Administrative Officer of full-service communities in Maryland and Pennsylvania. His major emphasis has been on financial management, public safety, human resources/labor relations, economic development, public works including utility management, environmental/sustainability issues, and organizational improvement. He is a past president of the Association for Pennsylvania Municipal Management Association (APMM).

    Mr. Deutsch has been active in the Municipal Leagues in Maryland and Pennsylvania, including testifying before State Legislatures, and serving on the Legislative Committee of the Maryland Municipal League. He served on the Board of Trustees of the International City Management Association Retirement Corporation (ICMA-RC). He chaired the Board of Trustees for more than half of his 11-year tenure with the Local Government Insurance Trust in Maryland, a consortium providing insurance and risk management services to 170 jurisdictions.

    Mr. Deutsch holds a Master's in Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, along with a B.A. in Political Science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He was City Manager in Bowie, Maryland for 23 years, and Township Manager for 13 years in Springettsbury Township, Pennsylvania. He currently works at Mercer Associates

    Donald Borut: Borut has been a prominent figure in municipal government and organizational leadership within the public interest sector since he received a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan in 1965. He served as the Executive Director of the National League of Cities (NLC) from 1990 until his retirement in 20121. The NLC is an American advocacy organization that represents over 19,000 cities, towns, and villages across the United States, along with 49 state municipal leaguesEstablished in 1924, the NLC provides education, research, support, and advocacy to city leaders nationwide2.During his tenure, Borut played a pivotal role in advancing the interests of local governments. Borut began his career in local government, working for the city of Ann Arbor. In 1971, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he helped lead the International City Management Association. In 1990, he assumed the position of Executive Director at the National League of Cities3 where he remained until his retirement in 2012.

    RELATED ARTICLE: Oxford Commissioners Conduct Town Manager Search Workshop - Easton Gazette



    Jan Greenhawk

    Jan Greenhawk is a former teacher and school administrator for over thirty years. She has two grown children and lives with her husband in Maryland. She also spent over twenty-five years coaching/judging gymnastics and coaching women’s softball.
    Notify of
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
  • Maryland's Premier Investigative Journalism
    Copyright © 2024 The Easton Gazette