Column: Easy does it, City Council

By the time these words see the light of day, the City Council will have held its Nov. 13 meeting, at which there is an agenda on hiring a new head of the police department. The city manager would be authorized to spend up to $40,000 to hire a private organization, the International City/County Management Association, to find us a new police head.carey

We do need to hire a new police department head, but we do not need to jump at the approach put forward in Item 4 by the city manager. Under our city charter, the manager does not appoint the police department head.

In former times, a chief would be chosen from within the ranks, one example being Charlie McLaughlin, who held the office while I was mayor. More recently, the notion has taken hold here that no one already in the police department can possibly be qualified to take over the top spot.

Why don’t we first find out, by discreet inquiry, whether there is anyone on the force who is qualified and willing to take on the job? It is strange to start out from the beginning with the notion that no one now onboard has what it takes or would not be acceptable to other present officers.

If we come to the conclusion that promotion from the ranks is not now appropriate, then the next step is to decide how to proceed. We could do as the city manager suggests and retain some private organization to take over the process for us under his direction. Too bad that we don’t know now, based on responsible recommendations, what search organizations would fit the bill, or even whether the one the manager urges could do the job.

The contract proposed by the city manager is not adequate, in my view. It would turn over to a private group, under his supervision, the process of screening candidates and selecting the future head of the police department. The City Council should not allow such an abdication of its prerogatives. The process must keep the council in the driver’s seat.

The contract proposed by the city manager appears to have come straight from someone’s computer memory with no adaptation to Rye’s special circumstances. The preparation of an appropriate contract, assuming a suitable search firm is identified and deemed necessary, would be for a small committee of the council to take over, including in its membership persons with deep experience in business contract drafting and enforcement.

In times past, Rye has had success in recruiting top officials by using a one-person headhunter. That is how our most effective city manager came to us. Frank Culross was managing a town on the St. Lawrence River when he was suggested to us by a headhunter. Councilwoman Pat Levine journeyed north to the river to check out Frank’s reputation. The rest is history.

There is one glaring inadequacy in the contract put before the council. It refers repeatedly to an Exhibit A. But no document labeled Exhibit A has been presented, only what looks like a promotional brochure extolling ICMA and some of its personnel. If you try to fit the two papers together, it doesn’t work. Here are a few examples:

Article 2 of the contract says that a schedule for services is “set forth in Exhibit ‘A’ attached hereto.” But the attachment has no such schedule. Article 3 says “payment by the city under this contract shall be governed by Exhibit ‘A’.” You will look in vain for payment information in the exhibit.

Article 17 would allow the city manager, with ICMA approval, to change contract terms. The City Council, which must approve any such contract at its inception, should also have to approve any change in it.

What appears to have happened is that ICMA, not wishing to draft a relevant Exhibit A, simply put into its Rye mailing package an ICMA selling brochure, without even taking the trouble to label it as “Exhibit A.”

The council, in my opinion, should step back and A) see if ICMA is likely to be more helpful than any other search firm, B) see who are now active as headhunters for helping local governments find suitable talent and C) form a small committee to draft, from scratch, a short but adequate contract with whatever search firm is selected.