City Councilors want better communications with the new city manager and other city staffers, but expressed a desire to stay out of day-to-day activities as they look for someone to fill the top spot in city government.
The question about their involvement with city operations was posed by John Anzivino, the city’s contact at Springsted, an executive search firm. The city hired Springsted last week to help recruit and interview Raleigh’s new city manager.
Council members fired long-time city manager Russell Allen in April, but his tenure with the city officially ended last month.
Chief Financial Officer Perry James has been named the interim city manager.
“I get a sense there’s a need for improved communication with the mayor and the city council on a continuing basis,” said Anzivino, referencing recent news articles he’s read.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane said that communication has been the issue that has consistently come up among all councilors. “We’ve certainly have had some discussions internally about how our office is structured and is there an opportunity to go to a chief of staff position,” said McFarlane. A chief of staff would be the point of contact between the city manager’s office and council.
Anzivino said that some city managers provide councilors with a Friday memo with updates on projects and city operations, a suggestion McFarlane said she liked.
“How actively engaged do you folks want to be involved in the running the city and managing the city?” asked Anzvino.
He questioned whether the councilors thought the city manager was there for the day-to-day operations and should provide councilors with information or did they want to be more ingrained in daily operations.
Ultimately, the answer came back to increased communication.
McFarlane said that if there was more communication between the city manager and the council, “I think there’s less of that desire to feel like you have to get in the weeds.”
Councilor Randy Stagner said that as an elected official, he has to answer to constituents who have questions and concerns about things that are going on in their neighborhood. “Whatever is the best way to interact with city staff to get their needs addressed is the way we should go forward,” he said.
The questioning came, in part, from a column in Governing magazine. Writer Mark Funkhouser criticized councilors for being too involved in daily operations after a News & Observer article referenced councilor emails that requested more direct contact with city department heads.
If the council needs to get involved in day-to-day activities, then that would likely mean that the city manager isn’t doing his or her job, said Councilor Bonner Gaylord. “The council is at its best when it’s looking five years out.”
McFarlane also asked Anzivino how involved city managers are with taking questions from the press versus having a public affairs department as the point of contact.
Anzivino replied that he has seen a city’s involvement with the press work in multiple ways. In some cities, the city manager answered questions from the media, and in others the mayor took center stage.
Councilors have put their Monday afternoon meetings on hold until August 12 when they will get a full report on Springsted’s recruiting efforts. By Sept. 2, Anzivino said that he will have a shortlist of candidates for councilors to review and interview during the month of September.
As part of the contract between Springsted and the city, Anzivino will provide councilors with weekly updates on the process.
Councilors have set an Oct. 1 deadline to hire a new manager.