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Kent City Council delays hiring consultant to find new finance director
The Kent City Council decided to delay indefinitely a vote on a city staff proposal to spend $26,280 on a consulting firm to help find a new finance director through a nationwide search.
Council members voiced concerns about spending that much money on an outside firm rather than using city staff. They also didn't want to move too fast on a high-profile hire prior to the outcome of the mayoral election Nov. 5 between incumbent Suzette Cooke and challenger Tim Clark.
Finance Director Bob Nachlinger plans to retire the end of January after 10 years on the job.
"I think it's a little too early," said Councilman Bill Boyce, according to a videotaping of the Sept. 17 council meeting. "Like (Councilman Les) Thomas said, we have staff in place who can fill this job until we know the outcome of the election."
Boyce also had concerns about spending so much money to hire a consultant.
"There are publications we can advertise with that will cost us little to none and locally we might be surprised at what we have here in the market to attract and find a replacement for Bob," Boyce said. "If after the fact, Bob is gone and we hire somebody, instead of spending $26,000 now we can bring Bob back for couple of weeks to help with the transition. Let's advertise nationally before we go out and spend so much money."
Councilwoman Dana Ralph agreed with Boyce.
"We should utilize national publications and look at the pool of candidates," Ralph said. "The $26,282 is a lot of money we are not in position to spend if we don't need to spend it."
Ralph added that city human resources staff could find a better fit to fill the position than any consultant would.
Lorraine Patterson, human resources director, and Tom Brubaker, interim chief administrative officer, brought the proposal to the council's Operations Committee on Sept. 3. Staff members proposed hiring Olympia-based Karras Consulting to help the city find the highest quality candidates.
The state of Washington, King County, Pierce County, Sound Transit and the city of Seattle are among the government agencies that have hired Karras to find department directors.
Brubaker told the council the city has one full-time employee and one part-time employee who recruit new employees.
Committee members Thomas, Dennis Higgins and Jamie Perry voted 3-0 to refer the consulting contract to the full council for discussion. Thomas said the committee preferred staying in-house and had concerns because a mayor won't be sworn in until January and the city will need to hire a permanent chief administrative officer.
The council never voted on the actual contract. A motion by Higgins to postpone the item until the Oct. 1 council meeting failed 3-3. Perry was absent from the meeting.
Thomas then moved to postpone the item indefinitely. That motion passed 5-1. Higgins, Ralph, Thomas, Boyce and Elizabeth Albertson voted in favor of the motion. Deborah Ranniger voted against it.
Prior to the vote, Ranniger asked Brubaker how long the hiring process would take. He responded it could be four or five months, which would mean the next mayor would be on board before the actual hire.
"We can still move ahead with the process whether we have a new mayor or not," Ranniger said. "The real questions are what's the advantage of going outside rather than in-house."
Cooke said that staff has been stretched extremely thin with other duties and that an outside consultant can track down candidates.
"They call people who are currently employed who they know would be excellent candidates for us," said Cooke, who added she used an outside firm to hire Police Chief Steve Strachan in 2006 but went in-house when she hired Ken Thomas in 2011 to replace Strachan.