City Administrator search remains murky
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
It has been more than six months since the City Council voted to accept the resignation of then-City Administrator Greg Boatright, and there is no clear indication that the Council is close to hiring a replacement.
Despite his resignation, Boatright indicated at the time that it was a Council decision to move on from him, and Mayor Rick Hall did not dispute that account.
That same evening Hall said the Council would begin the search for a new administrator.
“We will actively start working (to hire a new administrator),” Hall said on Aug. 12, 2019. “There’s a firm that helps cities place interim city administrators so we don’t drop the ball or lose ground on what we’re doing and that firm will also help us in finding a replacement that suits the needs of the council.”
Since that time, Hall has assumed all management of city government, and has on a number of occasions, told The Independent the hiring process was ongoing, even indicating there had been more than 40 applicants for the position. But since then it has become less clear what will happen with the vacant position.
In October, Hall was temporarily given duties of the City Administrator in what was explained as an administrative fix during the time the City is without a City Administrator.
Matt Powell, who was hired in September to consult on a variety of issues for the City, was working through the vetting process for City Administrator candidates through the fall, according to Hall.
But repeated requests from Council member Tony DeYoung for updates during meetings since September have been met with promises the issue would be discussed at a future meeting.
The issue was taken up briefly at the January Council retreat in executive session, with the outcome being a vote to allow Hall, Mayor Pro tem Liz Rundzieher and Powell to screen the current applicants.
At its Feb. 10 meeting, the Council discussed the city administrator search in executive session, before returning to open session and approving a motion to “direct (consultant) Matt Powell to refine the job description for City Administrator and the position of Assistant City Administrator to bring it back at the next Council meeting for Council to decide a path going forward.”
Prior to that date there was no mention made public of hiring an assistant city administrator.
When asked after that meeting how and why the city administrator job description was being reworked and whether an assistant might be hired, Hall responded to The Independent by email that, “This needs to hold off until the job descriptions have been review by council and a decision is made in moving forward. Nothing is finalized until the council votes on this and it will be taken up at the next council meeting.”
Hall declined to answer other questions about how the role of a new city administrator would fit in with his supervisory and day-to-day management duties of the City, as well as how the Council could justify three salaries in management positions should they hire an administrator and assistant.
“There is nothing to answer until the Council takes up a vote to determine if the city will hire a City administrator, an Assistant City Administrator or both and the reason for their decisions. Sorry if you feel like this does not answer your questions, but until the Council makes a decision it is all hypothetical,” he responded in a second email.
When asked if his response implied the Council might not hire an administrator he again declined to comment.
For her part, Council member Kathy Canady said in an interview Wednesday she was not in favor of hiring a new city administrator in a similar role as the one Boatright filled.
“What we need is an assistant city administrator with responsibilities that go hand in hand with the Mayor’s role and responsibilities,” she said, adding that she believes a new administrator is a bad idea. “A lot of that didn’t go well, so I’m leery of hiring a city administrator, but that’s just my opinion. I think the Mayor’s doing enough.”
DeYoung, who is the only Council member to inquire about the search and hiring process publicly, said he believes filling that position is vital.
“My reason for repeatedly asking is it is a void on our city staff that we have budgeted and I think there’s a place for it to be the head of our staff, and a subordinate of the Mayor as a chain of command kind of thing,” he said. “My question is how to fill the existing spot.”
The division of duties, according to DeYoung, would allow both the administrator and mayor position to be more effective.
“My thoughts on it are if we get a city administrator in there that will allow the Mayor to be out front, to be the face of our city promoting our town and that kind of thing rather than being tied to a desk or tied to checking up on staff,” DeYoung said. “I think it’s going to help our town and help the Mayor.”
On the issue of staff supervision, DeYoung also said he is not looking for dramatic change but to add that administrator layer back in.
“My hope is there is a clear chain of command, that the city administrator is going to fall under the mayor but over city staff,” DeYoung said. “I’m not talking about revoking the supervisory authority of the mayor. I don’t suggest that. I suggest that we let a city administrator lead and there’s a clear chain of command so staff knows who they directly report to.”
Hall said the process of hiring an administrator is a Council issue, but the other three Council members – Rundzieher, Steve McIntosh and Gram Lankford – did not respond to questions about their preference or intent and how they see the administrator’s role.
Because of the lack of information available throughout the fall on the search for a new administrator, The Independent made a request Jan. 2 under the Freedom of Information Act for correspondence between Hall and Powell regarding the search process.
The request was made for “Notes, emails, memorandums, text messages and other correspondence relating to the process, planning and hiring efforts related to the City of Liberty Hill city administrator search between Mayor Rick Hall and consultant Powell Municipal between 08/01/2019 and 12/31/2019.”
But the City did not respond to the request within the 10-day window allowed by law, and never officially responded to the request to even clarify it was requesting an exception from the Texas Attorney General’s (AG) Office to withhold the information.
A complaint was filed with the AG by The Independent, which led to a subsequent letter to the City from the AG dated Feb. 7 requesting a response to the complaint and previous information requests within 10 business days or Monday, Feb. 24.
Section 552 of Texas Government Code lays out the requirements and exceptions for responding to requests for information, and while there is a specified exemption for personnel information, it pertains to matters relating to a specific employee.