Polson pauses search for city manager
POLSON – After nearly six months without a permanent city manager, last week’s commission meeting didn’t bring the city any closer to deciding on a hiring process.
Commissioners were tasked with deciding whether to accept the City Manager Search Committee’s recommendation to contract with a hiring firm to find candidates to lead the city. The decision had been tabled for a month.
Commissioner Stephen Turner opened the discussion by saying he had consulted City Attorney Clinton Fischer about the hiring process. Fischer said current interim city manager and Polson Police Chief Wade Nash could hold both positions permanently without a conflict of interest.
Fischer also pointed out two regulations the city hadn’t considered during the former city manager searches. The first requirement is from the City of Polson employee handbook. The rule requires that the position be opened up to applications exclusively to current city employees for at least five days. After that period, the commission can decide to offer the job to an internal candidate or to accept outside applications. The other applicable regulation is the city’s resolution 2019-002 that requires the commission to appoint a committee to solicit applications for the position.
Mayor Paul Briney said he wanted to make sure the process was done according to the rules. “I’m tired of seeing lawsuits,” he said.
Larry Ashcraft and other members of the city manager search committee expressed frustration that commissioners had not participated in the committee. “Lots of time and thought went into this thing and we realized we didn’t have the wherewithal to do this,” Ashcraft said of the search for a city manager.
One member of the community equated appointing a city employee as city manager to appointing a mayor. “The people want a city manager,” he said. Citizens of Polson had voted to switch from a city mayor form of government to a city manager form of government.
A number of community members expressed concern that the city has been operating without a permanent city manager for a number of months. Former City Manager Mark Shrives declined to renew his contract on Oct. 29, 2018. “I’m not saying to string this out eight or ten months; I’m just saying to do this right this time,” Turner said.
Commissioner Brodie Moll said that he and Commissioner Jan Howlett had not been included in private conversations between other commissioners. According to Moll, other commission members had decided not to support the hire of a firm to execute the search during conversations outside of public meetings.
“We were not part of some decisions that were made that drove the agenda,” Moll said.
At the March 18 meeting, Commissioner Bob Martin said he wanted to delay a decision on the search process because “some commissioners have been working on quite a few issues” related to the hiring process. Commissioners Turner said there had been no private meetings that excluded Howlett and Moll. “I can call anybody I want on an individual basis,” Martin said.
All commissioners present voted in support of Turner’s motion proposing that the commission put off making a decision on the hiring process for two months. During that time, commissioners will seek more information on the legal parameters for hiring.
The commission also voted in favor of the city pursuing a memorandum of understanding with Cougar Ridge Development, LLC on the construction of a wastewater lift station.
The interim city manager, water and wewer wuperintendent Ashley Walker and wity wttorney Clint Fischer recommended that the city pursue the agreement. Cougar Ridge real estate agent Dennis Duty also spoke in favor of the agreement.
Growth of the Cougar Ridge Development has been limited because the existing wastewater transportation system is at capacity.
According to preliminary plans for the agreement, the city would contribute $200,000 up front and Cougar Ridge Development would contribute $200,000 plus any costs over $400,000. The city would reimburse Cougar Ridge for their investment using impact fees collected from development in the area that will use the lift station. When a final agreement between the city and the developer is reached, the commission will vote on whether to approve it.
All commissioners present approved the subdivision of Frazer Lakefront Estates. One condition of the subdivision is that Polson Animal Clinic will be required to vacate the property.