Almanac

News - October 6, 2010

Atherton council plans interim city manager

by Dave Boyce

An interim city manager will be overseeing Town Hall in Atherton while the City Council sorts through resumes and eventually engages a citizens committee to help interview candidates to replace departing City Manager Jerry Gruber, who is leaving on Oct. 22 for a position in Cambria, California.

The City Council talked the matter over in a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 30, sandwiched in between discussions about candidates for code enforcement officer, building official and city attorney.

The council, in a unanimous vote, agreed to have Mayor Kathy McKeithen and Councilman Jim Dobbie solicit resumes for an interim manager for review by the entire council in a special meeting on Oct. 16, a Saturday. A notice similar to the one used to hire Mr. Gruber will go up Monday, Oct. 4, at CalOpps.org, an online clearinghouse for government job openings, he said.

It may be six months before the council decides on a permanent replacement from among resumes gathered by an executive recruiter, Mr. Gruber said in an interview.

The process is expected to include citizens committee interviews of council-chosen finalists from what is hoped to be as many as 100 applicants.

Fresh eyes

Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis wanted citizens involved from the get-go by having them write a job description for the new manager.

"I think now is the time for true transparency in our process," she said. "I want to surround myself with the bright spots of the community who know more than me."

Hiring a recruiter? "That is not going to work," Ms. Lewis said. "Atherton is at a crossroads right now. ... I think that Atherton has entered into an era that we need to put away the old way of doing things."

An interim manager hired from the outside would have to be brought up to speed, Councilman Charles Marsala noted. Why not have Assistant City Manager Eileen Wilkerson fill in until a permanent choice is made?

An outsider will bring a fresh and possibly impartial perspective, Councilman Jerry Carlson said, and Mayor Kathy McKeithen and Councilman Jim Dobbie agreed. "Make the job very, very attractive," Mr. Dobbie added.

The town needs a good interim manager, Mayor McKeithen said. "One of the most important things is that we are not rushed," she added. "We need to make sure that we do this right."

Make the job very, very attractive? The town can't afford it, said resident and former private sector CEO Jon Buckheit. "We can't afford to pay a city manager $500,000 to get the right city manager here."

Better to skip recruiters — "Recruiters are crooks," he said — and look in Atherton. A resident will come cheaper and have a vested interest in the town's welfare, he said.

Another option bandied about is having government run more like business. That's a serious consideration for Ms. McKeithen. "Maybe it's time for government to run like a business," she said. "Maybe a business man or woman would be good for this town."

Council candidate Bill Widmer seconded that notion. "I believe we need to bring some business practices to the town," he told the council. "I think it's important that we are open to these kinds of thoughts and these types of people when we're making the selection."

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