Council: Change how city hires directors
With “due diligence” in mind, several councilmembers have asked to be more involved with the hiring process for city department heads.
The City Council was divided over the hiring of the city’s Public Works director this summer after learning he had been named in sexual discrimination lawsuits.
Many were concerned that the city hadn’t done its due diligence – referring to a thorough background check – before appointing Rob McGaughey as the head of Public Works.
“We were concerned with his past,” Councilmember Richard Emery said. “We had no way to evaluate him with the information [provided]. The process was not sufficient to appoint him in good conscience.
“We found out a lot about [him] after the fact.”
Two former employees filed suits against McGaughey, 50, when he was public works director and county engineer at Okanogan County. Others were also named in the lawsuits.
McGaughey has told The Beacon that the claims were “totally false.”
The council approved Mayor Joe Marine’s appointment of McGaughey in June by a vote of 5-2. He replaced former Public Works director Larry Waters, who retired in May.
Councilmember Jennifer Gregerson said the council had not been aware of the Okanogan lawsuits before the scheduled vote. She had found an old news story about the suits on the Internet.
Councilmembers Kevin Stoltz and Steve Schmalz voted against confirming McGaughey.
Schmalz asked that the council review the city’s process for appointing department heads. He was not alone: Several councilmembers said they would like to be involved in the interview process for all city directors, administrators and chiefs.
“All of the department heads do have a public face and implement our decisions,” Gregerson said. “We should get resumes and give input at the interview stage.”
That process was reviewed in a work session held Sept. 9.
As it turns out, Marine wasn’t required to present his choice for Public Works director for council confirmation.
The mayor is only required to present one candidate to the council for review and confirmation when it is for the police and fire chiefs and city administrator.
“Just think how much they would have screamed if they hadn’t [confirmed],” Marine said.
Though several councilmembers said the city’s process made them “uncomfortable,” Marine had unknowingly allowed the council to be more involved than is required.
The appointment process, signed into law by then Mayor Brian Sullivan in 1990, gives the mayor the power to appoint the Community Development director, Finance director, city clerk, Recreation & Cultural Services director – and Public Works director – without council confirmation.
“We would have saved us all this anguish, if I had known about this resolution at the start,” City Administrator Joe Hannan said. “I could have saved all of us headaches by not even having the council confirm the appointment.”
Councilmember Emily Vanderwielen said that what matters most is whether the city staff is comfortable with the appointments – not the council.
“It was nice to feel like we were part of the process,” Vanderwielen said of the police chief and city administrator hires, “but it really gets down to city staff feeling comfortable working with that person 40 hours a week. I would value city staff’s input more than the council or community.”
The 1990-approved process also notes that “the council will be notified in advance of all interviews of candidates” for the police and fire chiefs and city administrator and that “the council may participate in the interview process” of those positions.
In McGaughey’s appointment, the council was not a part of the interview process. Councilmembers did, however, meet the top candidates for the police chief and city administrator positions.
“I didn’t think it was important,” Marine said. “The council doesn’t necessarily work with the Public Works director on a daily basis, nor do I think [they] should.
“A number of councilmembers believe it’s their job, and they would like to direct staff but, quite frankly, it’s not.”
Most councilmembers asked that the process be changed so that they are required to confirm all department heads.
“I don’t want to get to the point where we are micromanaging,” Council Vice President Linda Grafer said. “I like when we have the opportunity to meet these people.”
In response, Hannan proposed a new process that would involve providing councilmembers the resumes and interview notes of the top three candidates for all department heads.
They would be allowed to write comments, but not rank the candidates.
In the search for a new Public Works director, two panels interviewed seven candidates and narrowed the pool down to three.
The first panel was then Public Works Director Waters and the Lynnwood Public Works director; the second panel was of all of the city department directors and the city administrator.
After final interviews with two candidates, Marine determined McGaughey was the most qualified.
The mayor doesn’t think the process needs to be changed.
“I think I’ve had some great hires,” Marine said. “I don’t think the process is flawed. McGaughey has turned out to be an excellent candidate and excellent employee.”
From now on, however, Marine said he would hire an outside agency to do background checks. He said he didn’t do it to save the city up to $20,000.
“A Google search doesn’t cost much,” Gregerson said.