Search for Fort Smith boss set to end by Jan. 19, Board seeks person who will make changes

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 173 views 

Those interested in being the next Fort Smith City Administrator need to apply no later than Dec. 2, with the job info indicating that the next person hired will work with a “Board that is more active and one that trusts but verifies.”

The job has been open since early July when Ray Gosack suddenly resigned following a period of conflict with the Fort Smith Board of Directors related to budget balancing decisions. Gosack held the job for about three years, and was with the city for 16 years.

According to Colin Baenziger & Associates, the Daytona Shores Beach, Fla.-based company hired by the city to find a new top boss, Dec. 2 is the final day to receive applications, with the company reporting initial results to the city on Dec. 7. The schedule after that is tight. The recruitment company is scheduled to provide the city a candidate report and associated materials on Dec. 29, with the Board scheduled to select candidates for interviews by Jan. 6.

On Jan. 14 the city is set to hold a reception for the finalists who seek the job that pays between $130,000 and $170,000 – and it is unclear if that includes benefits or is the salary range. On Jan. 15, the Mayor and Board are scheduled to interview candidates, with Jan. 19 marked as the date for the Board to make a decision. Following that, the recruitment company will then work with the city and the selectee on an employment agreement.

In a 7-page recruitment piece, Colin Baenziger notes that the Board has new expectations for the next city administrator, which gives some insight into what Board members told the recruitment company during late October interviews.

“In recent years, the composition of the Board has undergone some significant changes leading to a Board that is more active and one that trusts but verifies,” noted the Baenziger profile piece. “The current Board feels the need to manage resources carefully and present truly balanced budgets. The effort will include, among other things, a review of city operations (to make them more efficient and effective), better planning, improved policies and procedures, the development of a fixed asset program, improving capital improvement programming and the introduction of an enterprise system.”

Other items noted in the piece include:
• “Economic development is an area where  the Board wants to focus. … It also wants to
find ways to improve the downtown. The area is beginning to show more life as a few new businesses and restaurants have opened recently but much more can be done.”

• “Other challenges include correcting the underfunding of the police and fire pensions, finding better ways to communicate with the public, insuring the composition of the city government’s work force reflects that of the community, and building consensus among the elected officials, city staff and the public.”

• “The Board is seeking an outstanding leader with a demonstrated track record of achievement. The individual will be a consensus and team builder who knows how to balance competing points of view and find common ground.”

• “The Board wants someone to work with it as a partner and a trusted advisor. He/she will be open and honest with the Board, always communicating with them.”

• “The individual will insure all the Board Members have the same information at the same time and that there will be no surprises.”

• “The Administrator will have excellent communications skills and know how to relate to a wide variety of groups. In other words, he/she will know how to bridge divides.”

Also, the piece notes that a bachelor’s degree is necessary, with a preference for a candidate with a master’s degree in business administration, public administration or a field related to public policy. It also suggests candidates have “seven to ten years of increasingly responsible experience as a senior level government or private sector executive.” The person is also required to live in the city if hired.

Link here for the complete 7-page recruitment piece published by Colin Baenziger & Associates.

Fort Smith Director George Catsavis told Talk Business & Politics that he told Colin Baenziger in the October interviews that he preferred someone with private sector and government experience.

“I also indicated I wanted someone who will work with our local businesses and citizens to help shape a plan that will promote a business friendly environment,” Catsavis said, adding that he wants the next city boss to “look at our current system and see if changes are needed to be more efficient or even restructure city functions if needed.”

Director Don Hutchings said he offered five suggestions for the next city administrator. They are:
• Able to successfully lead our 900 city employees with aggressive, but submissive enthusiasm;
• Willing to work with seven different personalities on our board, & keep us in line with our goals;
• Develop a close relationship between the city and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Chaffee Crossing;
• Go after more funding from Washington, D.C., and Little Rock; and
• Create a culture of expecting more jobs and better paying jobs.

Director Keith Lau, who along with Director Tracy Pennartz, has been vocal in seeking changes to the city budgeting process, said he hopes the city hires “someone who holds their departments accountable for performance.” He said ultimately the goal is to create a city government that is flexible, transparent and innovative. Specifically, he wants an administrator who can stay ahead of problems and not bring “11th hour decisions” to the Board.

“In the past we have had key personnel who have performed in ways which would have resulted in immediate termination or prosecution in the private sector. I expect private sector accountability in city government. I expect more transparency in our governance,” Lau said. “Fort Smith is on the cusp of fixing our financial and infrastructure problems. The City then will be better positioned to capitalize on our investments in economic development. I think the city government with the right administrator who takes smart fiscal, and managerial steps can put us on the right track in the next 12- to 18-months and look like a superstar.”