WILLMAR — With June 2 only five months away, the last day on the job for Willmar City Administrator Brian Gramentz, the Willmar City Council Labor Committee has recommended the city hire the recruitment firm Baker Tilly to run the national search for the city's new administrator.

"We would like to move forward with our search as soon as possible," said Samantha Beckman, Willmar human resources director, at Tuesday's Labor Committee meeting.

Baker Tilly, who was also hired in 2019 to run the administrator search when former administrator Ike Holland resigned, will be doing this search at cost, for no more than $5,500, instead of the usual $20,000. Beckman said this is because the 2019 search did not end with the city hiring a candidate found by Baker Tilly. Instead the council offered the full-time job to Gramentz, who had been serving as the city's interim administrator.

"That is great news," said Councilor Vicki Davis about the cost savings.

Since Baker Tilly has worked with the city in the past, the feeling is its staff will have a head start on the search because the firm already has background on the city.

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If hired by the City Council, Baker Tilly will advertise the administration position nationally, screen applicants, complete background checks and assist with the interview process.

Part of the agreement with Baker Tilly is the firm will have the exclusive recruitment rights for the administrator position, meaning the city would not be able to have another firm also look for candidates. Councilor Tom Butterfield was against that stipulation, feeling local employment agencies should have the opportunity to find candidates.

"I believe we need to be putting more people to work at this, and get the right fit for Willmar, instead of doing this every two to three years," Butterfield said. "I think we need to open the door up to local employment agencies right here in town."

Gramentz said city administrators are a specialized group of people and cities usually have to reach out nationally to find candidates. Baker Tilly is only one of a handful of search firms with experience in city administrator searches, Gramentz said.

"You are not pulling, historically, from your community," Gramentz said, though local candidates are still welcome to apply for the position.

Butterfield wondered if expanding the number of people looking for candidates would mean finding someone who would stay in Willmar long term. Counting Gramentz, Willmar has had four full-time administrators since 2015 plus two interims.

"Let's open it up, let's get more, better qualified candidates," Butterfield said. "So we can get someone here five, 10, 15, 20 years."

Gramentz said Willmar's recent past of administrator turnover is rare, but what is even rarer now is finding an administrator who will stay in a single city for several years or decades. Gramentz said most administrators will work in several cities, in perhaps several states, over their career.

"Hiring someone for 30 years, it just doesn't happen that often anymore," Gramentz said. "About 20 years ago the tenure of city administrators and managers started shortening up dramatically across the nation."

Butterfield voted against recommending the hiring of Baker Tilly while the other three committee members — Councilors Davis, Justin Ask and Michael O'Brien — all voted for it.

"I think this makes a lot of sense to me," Ask said. "It is a very specific role, it is a very professional role. If we are looking to be a regional city, this is certainly the direction that we go for something like this. Hopefully we have better luck as far as longevity of the person we hire."