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City might tap search specialists to replace Schmit

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council may seek the services of an executive search firm to fill the city administrator's position.

Seven of eight council members met in an informal work session Wednesday to discuss the process of filling the administrator's position. They talked about the possibility of doing the search process themselves or the possibility of hiring a firm.

After about an hour of discussion, they reached consensus to seek the services of a firm to find a replacement for City Adm-inistrator Mi-chael Schmit who will be retiring at the end of July 2011. Council members took no action, but they'll probably vote on the process at their next regular meeting Sept. 7. At that point, if an affirmative decision is made, the council would direct Schmit to issue requests for proposals from firms interested in conducting a candidate search.

After the meeting, Mayor Les Heitke said firms would be invited to discuss their processes, their success at finding candidates and the costs involved for their work.

Then a contractual arrangement would be established with council approval for one firm to develop a recruiting process, he said.

Schmit announced June 30 that he will retire next year. He has served 36 years with the city including the last 20 years as administrator.

Heitke asked council members how they wanted to proceed. He said the city has no written procedure for replacing the administrator. He said the council could do their own search or hire a firm.

The mayor said he'd like the community to have an opportunity to provide input, and he wanted to leave the door open to current staff members as well as outside prospects. Heitke said no current staff members have talked to him about the job.

As a discussion starting point, Schmit presented written information that he received from two professional search firms, Springsted Incorporated of St. Paul, and Brimeyer Fursman, LLC, of Maplewood. The information outlined the processes used by the firms in recruiting individuals for management positions.

Doug Reese spoke in favor of a search firm, saying the city would have a better outcome. He said the Rice Hospital Board successfully used a firm to find a new chief executive. The Municipal Utilities Commission also used a firm to find a new general manager.

"Let the professionals do it,'' he said. "We don't have much time. We need to get going on it as soon as possible.''

Tim Johnson favored sending out requests for proposals. The city would get a bigger pool of candidates, he said, would learn what's out there and not exclude local candidates.

Denis Anderson said he did not want to exclude local candidates but wanted to know "what else is out there. It's an opportunity that does not happen very often.''

Other council members supporting the concept of hiring a firm included Steve Ahmann, Ron Christianson and Bruce DeBlieck. Rick Fagerlie was absent.

Jim Dokken suggested the council "look first within our own organization'' and establish criteria.

Later, council members agreed with Dokken's suggestion to establish a calendar of action steps to be accomplished during the process.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150