Editor’s note: Story updated with comments from Directors Keith Lau and Kevin Settle, and Mayor Sandy Sanders.
Carl Geffken has been tapped to be the next Fort Smith city administrator. The Fort Smith Board of Directors made the decision Tuesday night (March 8) after a lengthy executive session. Geffken and the city must now agree on an employment contract.
It was a 5-2 vote, with Directors Keith Lau and Kevin Settle opposing Geffken’s hiring. Supporting the Geffken hire were Directors George Catsavis, André Good, Don Hutchings, Mike Lorenz and Tracy Pennartz.
Geffken is now the chief operating officer, Children and Youth Services, for the County of Berks, Pennsylvania. He’s also served as the city managing director (2010-2012) of Reading, Pa.
The Board did not hire Dan Biles or Acting Fort Smith City Administrator Jeff Dingman. Biles is a 23-year veteran of the Air National Guard and the United States Air Force, and is now a deputy county manager in Jefferson County, Ala., (Birmingham). Dingman has been the acting city administrator since mid July 2015. He was hired in 2011 to be Fort Smith’s deputy city administrator, and prior to that was city administrator in Baldwin, Kan. (pop. 4,540).
The job has been open since July 10, 2015, when City Administrator Ray Gosack resigned suddenly following a period of conflict with the Fort Smith Board related to budget balancing decisions. Gosack held the job for about three years, and was with the city for 16 years.
The city administrator job pays between $130,000 and $170,000.
Colin Baenziger & Associates (CBA), the Daytona Shores Beach, Fla.-based firm hired by the city to find administrator, sent on Feb. 11 nine applications for the city administrator job, with two having military experience and one appearing to not meet one of the basic requirements of having a bachelor’s degree.
Requirements for the city’s top job include a bachelor’s degree, with a preference for a candidate with a master’s degree in business administration, public administration or a field related to public policy. The CBA recruitment piece 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.
Following is a resume summary of Geffken.
chief operating officer, Children and Youth Services (2012-present)
County of Berks, Pennsylvania
city managing director (2010-2012)
director of administrative services (2009-2011)
interim chief financial officer/vice president of finance (July-November 2008)
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
director of finance and human resources (2006-2008)
National Association of Drug Abuse Problems
executive director, finance, information technology and human resources (2003-2006)
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York City
budget director (1990-1998)
Department of Health, New York City
Geffken earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1986 from State University of New York, and a master’s degree in business administration in 1988 from City University of New York.
When asked what drove their “no” votes, Settle said he “didn’t think Carl fit the needs of the city at this time,” adding that he hoped Geffken could “prove me wrong.”
“I thought that Dingman would be a better city administrator,” Lau admitted. “It was a split vote, and oh well. We discussed the pros and cons, and that was the decision that was made.”
As to whether there was something in particular about Geffken Lau didn’t like as a candidate, Lau first said he would “pass on that,” before adding, “It’s up to him now to come down and prove that he’s going to be a city leader who meets or exceeds our expectations.”
Talk Business & Politics was unable to speak with the “yes” votes as all vacated the Elm Grove Community Center shortly after the vote. Mayor Sandy Sanders, however, said it was a “difficult decision,” and “that’s why the Board has taken so long to reach a decision.”
“The Board ultimately made the decision that Mr. Geffken’s skills, backgrounds, and experiences, came closer to meeting the challenges that we have as a city,” Sanders said. “There was not any one thing. He has myriad skills, talents, and experiences — things like consent decrees, and working in similar-sized cities with similar-sized challenges in his other positions.”
Sanders confirmed he had spoken to Dingman prior to the vote to let him know the Board was going in another direction, and that it was a short conversation, “just to let him know so he didn’t find out after the fact.”
“We’re very fortunate that we have Jeff Dingman as our deputy city administrator,” Sanders added. “He’s done a good job as our interim city administrator, and we (the city) will have that capability to assist Mr. Geffken.”
Sanders called Dingman “a very strong candidate,” who was “highly thought of, with a lot of skills and talents, but the Board looked at Mr. Geffken’s experience and similar challenges and decided to go in that direction.”
Geffken is expected to start in April though a start date has not been set at this time as he will need time to notify his current employer and arrange for housing, Sanders said.
As a result, city administration will continue to search for candidates to fill several top positions currently open or coming open soon – positions like fire chief, director of human resources, director of sanitation, and the director of utilities position that will be vacated on April 1 when utilities director Steve Parke retires.
“We’re still in the process,” Sanders said. “We’ve been interviewing for some of the positions that are open. There is an ongoing process of trying to solicit candidates, and some interviews have been held, but I’m not sure right now which positions. We have some challenges for now. It’s all hands on deck.”