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Kent City Council committee defers hiring $60,000 consultant to help fill job openings

Kent City Council President Dana Ralph questions whether the city should spend $60,000 for a consultant to help fill two job vacancies. - COURTESY PHOTO
Kent City Council President Dana Ralph questions whether the city should spend $60,000 for a consultant to help fill two job vacancies.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO

A three-member Kent City Council committee decided to let the full council decide whether to approve a staff request to hire a consultant for $60,000 to help fill two high-profile job openings.

The city needs to hire a permanent chief administrative officer (CAO) and a finance director. Both jobs are filled by interim hires.

The council's Operations Committee on a 2-1 vote Tuesday forwarded the proposal to the March 4 regular council meeting. Council President Dana Ralph and Bill Boyce voted in favor of sending the motion to the council. Les Thomas voted against it.

"We have new council members and I'd like to see it go forward to other business so other council members can have discussion on this, too," Boyce said.

Jim Berrios joined the council in January. The council will pick a replacement for Ken Sharp, who resigned in January, on Feb. 25, for its full seven-member body.

"I'd like to see it go to the full council," Ralph said. "I'm more comfortable with the finance director position than I am with the CAO position in that we haven't made any attempts on that position. And if we are not getting any (consultant fee) discount because we're running through two, I'd be more comfortable looking at them separately."

The council decided in September 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.

Finance Director Bob Nachlinger announced last fall that he would retire at the end of January after 10 years on the job.

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. Cooke won reelection and has said she supports hiring a consultant to fill the two positions.

"I have a hard time, I'll be real honest here," Thomas said about the need for a consultant. "We took it to the full council and voted it down for different reasons and I don't see that much as changed."

Lorraine Patterson, city human resources director, proposed to the committee to hire Olympia-based Karras Consulting to conduct national searches for the two positions. She said the city received only 22 applicants for the finance director position by advertising locally and in national publications and only 10 met the minimum qualifications. She said none had experience as a finance director in a comparable city.

"We are just unable to reach the right type of candidates, happily employed high performers, because they are not actively in the job market," Patterson said in her memo to the committee.

Patterson noted that Mayor Cooke wants to conduct a national search for a CAO as well so that highly qualified candidates can be contacted about the opening in Kent.

The pay range for a new CAO in Kent is $121,200 to $169,668 per year in salary, according to the city of Kent 2014 pay rate list. The range for a finance director is $106,776 to $149,496.

Tom Brubaker is serving at the interim CAO after switching from city attorney. Deputy City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick is the acting city attorney. Those moves were made after John Hodgson retired in May. Assistant finance director Paula Barry has been named interim finance director to replace Nachlinger during the search for a replacement.

The city has not yet advertised the CAO position.

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