Council tussles on choosing city manager recruiting firm

Cove Leader-Press 

It’s back to the drawing board for the Copperas Cove council finding a new city manager, after it did an about-face on one of its decisions during Tuesday night’s meeting. 
In a split vote that was broken by Mayor Frank Seffrood, it initially approved Springsted Waters as the recruiting firm to find candidates for Copperas Cove city manager. Place 1 councilman David Morris made a motion to select that firm, which was seconded by place 2 councilman James Pierce Jr. The vote was 3-3, with place 7 councilman Charlie Youngs voting with Morris and Pierce to approve Springsted Waters, with councilmen Dan Yancey, Jay Manning and Marc Payne voting against it. Seffrood cast the tiebreaking vote due to the absence of place 5 councilman Kirby Lack. 
However, after a 90-minute executive session later in the meeting, the council emerged with Youngs making the motion to bring the original agenda item back for reconsideration. 
Pierce and Morris were both vocal in their displeasure on what they saw as “backpedaling” by the council. 
“I think this is a bad idea because we already took our vote to proceed with this. I don’t understand why we were having this argument in the first place. We’ve been without a city manager since February, and it feels like, maybe for me, for political purposes people are kicking this can further and further down the road,” said Pierce. “The longer we go without a city manager, it’s going to hurt our city, it’s going to hurt our image in the area. We proceeded this evening with a 3-3 vote, with the mayor voting and affirming for us to go forward. Now we’re going to second-guess ourselves in front of the entire community…we’re the indecisive people now. We can’t make a decision and stick with it?”
Morris also agreed. 
“We had two great firms that wanted to do business with the city, and we’re turning our nose to them,” Morris said. “It feels as if some of them are handpicked; we were looking at firms that didn’t want to participate in our RFQ process, and yet we’re going to reopen the process and allow it to happen again, to write a specific RFQ. I think we need to make a decision and stick with it, to move forward with the firm we’ve selected and let the process play itself out.” 
After the decision to bring the item back for reconsideration was approved 4-2, Councilman Jay Manning then made the motion to reject both firms’ RFQs. Pierce then questioned why the motion was made to reject the firms. 
“Our motion was to select a firm that responded to the RFQ… Just because we sent it out to 19 companies and only two responded in the positive, we’re going to reject them too? They put the proposals together to solicit our business, to find us a city manager. They took the chance on us from the guidelines we gave them. They chose to play ball. Let’s let them play ball,” Pierce said. 
“The requirements in the RFQ eliminated some very qualified people. In fact, I believe that the RFQ actually attracted people who we do not want doing this job,” Manning responded. “We want a company that can be discreet about doing things.” 
At prior meetings, he had called the RFQ too restrictive, one of the reasons that he believed only two recruiting firms out of 19 responded with proposals. 
In fact, two firms, JD Gray Group LLC and Strategic Government Resources, responded with letters to the city in early May noting why they didn’t submit a recruitment proposal. JD Gray Group LLC found the guarantee provision in the RFQ “pretty harsh,” and SGR gave a bulleted list of seven of the RFQ’s requirements that made them believe “we were not well suited for the expectations and dynamics that the City had for a search firm.”  
As far as Youngs changing his mind on the vote, on Wednesday the Leader-Press reached Youngs by phone, who chalked up his initial vote of support for hiring Springsted Waters “a mistake.” 
He also did not fault the city for the RFQ it had sent out, but also noted that the council didn’t get to see the RFQ before it was submitted to firms for consideration. 
The Copperas Cove city council first received the RFQs from the two firms during its April 17 meeting, and didn’t take action at that time. For $24,500 in addition to any costs for any finalists to travel for interviews, Springsted Waters would conduct a search and have a lineup of candidates within 90-100 days. CPS HR had a similar cost of $22,000, and both firms had a two-year guarantee.
During its May 15 meeting, the council had representatives from both recruiting firms make presentations, and still took no action, with Manning asking that the agenda item be moved again. 
It has been nearly four months since former city manager Andrea Gardner resigned. Council members gave interim city manager Ryan Haverlah words of support on Tuesday evening. 
“I believe Ryan’s doing a good job, so maybe we’re better off staying here for a little while,” Manning said.
Dan Yancey followed up with his own comment.
“I think this is without question the most important decision this city council is going to make, the next city manager is going to have an affect on the growth and economic prosperity of Copperas Cove for years to come. Ryan has done a very good job, and I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far. But I want the absolute best candidate, and if it turns out to be Ryan, then he earned it. But we have a responsibility to work with companies that we feel like have some integrity – not that these firms didn’t – but the way that the RFQ was worded, it rejected a lot of good potential companies that would give us the best qualified candidates for city manager.” 
Councilman David Morris pointed out that the RFQ did not come from the city, but was provided by an outside agency. 
“It was not generated inhouse, so if we have an issue with the RFQ, it was with that outside agency, not with our staff or the integrity of the staff that produced the document.”
Also on Tuesday night, the council did approve a bid of $679,261 from Myers Concrete Contractors, LP, for cart path renovations at the Hills of Cove Golf Course, which will be funded by certificate of obligation bonds, with phase 1 of $372,931 already designated from 2016-2018 funding, and phases 2 and 3 of $170,000 each being funded in 2019 and 2020. 
The council approved the purchase of radio equipment for the fire department, and the disposal of older radio equipment was also approved, as was an amendment to the service agreement between the Parks & Recreation Department and C&H Hawaiian Grill for concessions at city pool facilities. The council also unanimously appointed Albert Castillo, Julie Norman, Jack Smith, and Bob Weiss to the 2018 city Charter Review Committee.

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