The East Lansing City Council favored the Michigan Municipal League’s pitch to conduct the search for the next city manager and will be awarded the contract, assuming the city attorney and MML can work out the details.
With Dana Watson absent, the four other members of Council unanimously picked MML at the Tuesday, March 7, meeting after a short discussion.
Initially, the topic of choosing a search firm was slated to be discussion-only. But it was moved to a vote after Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg and Councilmember George Brookover stated clear support for MML during the course of the conversation.
The Council opted for MML’s “enhanced” package, which has a stated cost of $19,000. Proposals ranged from $13,900 to $26,950 and included a pitch from Frank Walsh, Meridian Township’s manager, who runs a private search firm on the side.
Multiple council members said they believe the services and experience offered are more important than price.
“I guess the difference in price between these is relatively negligible,” Gregg said. “A couple grand in the context of something that is of high interest to our whole community going forward and is going to set the tone for hopefully many years to come….To me it’s more important to have the right person in the job.”
Gregg said she favored MML because of the level of stakeholder engagement that is outlined in its proposal and the regional understanding the agency has.
In its proposal, MML said the search will likely take at least 120 days to complete, but the timeline depends on the city’s needs, ad placement, and the availability of city officials and candidates.
MML will help advertise to identify and interview candidates. The organization has been involved in other searches for Michigan municipal employees, including Muskegon’s city manager last year, and Flint’s finance director and human resources director in 2020.
At the meeting, outgoing Interim Human Resources Director Ben Dawson posed questions to council members about the type of firm they’d like to conduct the search. Among his questions was whether they’d like the search to be more regional or national.
Brookover said that because all candidates offered national searches, the city should cast as wide a net as it can, and narrow the search later on if necessary.
“If I’m paying somebody $18,000 to do a search, I want it to be a national search, and a regional search, and every other kind of search they can do,” Brookover said.
Brookover also said that once an agency is selected to conduct the search, city staff can help to steer the search in a direction it desires.
“It’s the beginning of a conversation,” Dawson said. “Really, it’s just picking who you want to have that conversation with.”
Brookover asked if an agency would be contractually obligated to bring in more candidates if the council doesn’t want to hire any of the first-round finalists. Dawson and the city attorney were given instructions to follow up on that.
The four other proposals for the search included pitches from Baker Tilly, HRGov, Frank Walsh, and a “standard” search package from MML.
The City Council’s search for a new manager comes at a time when the city’s workforce has been destabilized by the departure of numerous heads of departments and their seconds-in-command, as ELi has been reporting.
We have a separate report forthcoming on comments about that issue made Tuesday night by Mayor Ron Bacon and Interim City Manager Randy Talifarro.