Column: What we taxpayers are getting for $40,000

careyLast November, the City Council decided to hire, for $40,000, an outfit called ICMA—where our city manager is said to have some connection—to help us find a new top cop after Commissioner William Connors leaves. ICMA got the contract without the kind of competitive bidding that I believe the law requires. I pointed this out in my column of Nov. 15, urging the council to deal with other deficiencies in the contract proposed by ICMA and the city manager.

Shortly after his swearing in, Mayor Joe Sack invited me to join a “focus group” on the top cop search and later I was asked to attend a “stakeholder meeting” on Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. I had no idea what to expect or who else was invited to this, the first of two such sessions on successive days.

I appeared promptly at 7 p.m. and was the first invitee to show up. Two ICMA men welcomed me to the City Hall conference room. I told them that, as a former mayor, it was I who should be welcoming them to the room where I had presided for eight years.

I was told that former mayors French and Dunn were expected at the same meeting while police sergeants and lieutenants were invited for the next day. Selected officers with less rank were also to be involved the next day, Jan. 10.

Ted Dunn did not make the stakeholder meeting. Doug French expressed surprise that the whole City Council was not in attendance. I got some surprises too.

I was informed by the two ICMA men that ICMA does not identify potential candidates for its clients. Candidates must identify themselves, after reading announcements that clients like Rye place in various publications. Our two ICMA guests informed me there are commercial firms that identify likely candidates of which they make it their business to be aware.

This I knew very well from my own experience as mayor in recruiting city officials.

I also knew very well that a city that relies on self-identification of candidates is foolish. I will not soon forget our experience in hiring a city manager sometime in the 1970s. We placed ads in publications and resumes flooded in. We picked out half a dozen to interview and were badly disappointed with the results. The people who came in were looking for a new job, quite possibly because they feared losing their present positions. We saw no one that we could picture as Rye’s city manager.

We decided we were being dangerously naïve.

It dawned on us that the way to identify the best candidates was to find those who were doing well where they were and were happy to stay there. But how could we identify such stars, since self-selection is a self-defeating way to proceed?

Somehow we became aware of the existence of head-hunters, specialized in finding suitable municipal official candidates. Such firms, we discovered, maintain contact with people at work in relevant areas, keeping tabs on how well they are doing and whether they are content where they are.

We used a head-hunter in the 1970s to find a city manager and also to find a corporation counsel. Both of these appointments worked out very well. In the case of the city manager, we had to pry the individual away from his position since he was widely respected where he was and perfectly happy there. He would not have volunteered himself as a candidate in response to an advertisement.

What the ICMA men said they would provide for us, in return for our $40,000, was training in reviewing resumes and training in interviewing and scoring candidates. They were vague about what would come next: One or both of them seemed to think the City Council would recommend one or more candidates to the city manager, who would then appoint Rye’s new top cop with the title of commissioner even if the person selected came from the present ranks of the police department.

What the ICMA men evidently had not been informed of in advance was the manager does not appoint the police commissioner in Rye.

In my opinion, whatever arrangements exist between Rye and ICMA should be promptly renegotiated. The council should calculate the fair value of the training ICMA is offering and negotiate on that basis. The city manager should recuse himself from further negotiations, in view of his being on both sides of the table.