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Try, try again

Apr 21, 2017 By Steven R. Peck

It's back to the drawing board on hiring a new city administrator

The re-start on the hiring process for Riverton's next city administrator is an unexpected development. It's also a necessary one. The city doesn't go through this procedure all that often, so it's important to get it right.

Any transaction gets more complicated when things start moving from the general to the particular. That apparently is what happened here. The city had advertised the position nationally, then brought three finalists to Riverton for interviews and meet-and-greets. Everything was looking good, and it didn't take long for city leaders to conclude that one of the three in-person applicants was the man for the job.

That was the general. The specifics were the undoing.

No one is sharing any of those publicly, by the way, but it's easy to imagine what might well have happened. The details of a contract -- salary, benefits, timetable for hire, relocation expenses, job responsibilities - each one can be a complicating factor once it's time to put a deal on paper.

Beyond that, both parties -- the city and the candidate -- can start to look at things differently after a period of separation and contemplation. First impressions give way to speculation about longer-term relationships.

Personality quirks that seem meaningless during the glad-handing public meetings and round-table interview sessions can come to be magnified when one is talking about the next five years, rather than the next 15 minutes.

A job applicant who finds himself in the driver's seat sometimes can try to maximize his advantage. We recall a case when Fremont County was hiring a prominent department head. After the job offer had been extended under the terms advertised, the candidate suddenly raised his asking price significantly. The county, already waist-deep in the hiring process, capitulated to the demand. That turned out to be something the commissioners came to regret.

No one is saying that's what happened here, or might have happened, only that things turned for the worse when it came time to negotiate the details of the actual working relationship.

Mayor Baker was cogent in remarking that it would do neither the city nor the new administrator any good to arrive on the job facing "hardship right off the bat in selling (himself) to the council." One rule of management: Never try to solve a problem by creating another one.

Another wise move by the council was to bring in an experienced former official, Courtney Bohlender, to function in the job of administrator while the search goes on. There definitely was talk of not doing that, to let the other department heads do their best to cover the position with the understanding that finding a replacement for the departing Steven Weaver would be quick work.

It wasn't, as things turned out. The interim administrator is proving even more valuable than it appeared at first, and the decision to hire her is looking smarter all the time.

Some years ago, the City of Riverton opted for a city administrator style of government. The swing and miss on hiring Weaver's replacement doesn't change anything in that regard. Riverton remains committed to that local government structure.

This is one of the most important jobs in government anywhere in Fremont County, and it requires the best outcome Riverton can get. Hiring the new administrator is not a speed race. It is more important to do it right than to do it quickly.

As the process begins again, the public can rest in assurance that competent leadership is in place for now, which affords enough time to conduct a new search that will yield the desired, unanimous, enthusiastic result - both for the city and its next administrator.

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2017-10-22