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The city of Healdsburg held a virtual town hall on Tuesday night, Aug. 4, to give residents another chance to weigh in on the city council’s road to selecting a new city manager.

The online event offered the 18 community members in attendance an opportunity to provide more feedback on six survey questions, which will help inform the council’s decision in the city manager candidate review and selection process.

“At the end of May we started this process and it’s about a four-month process to do a city manager recruitment,” said Gary Phillips, an executive recruiter with Bob Murray & Associates, a firm that helps with executive position recruitment. “Part of the process is to gain input from the different stakeholders that will be engaging with the city manager.”

To garner feedback on what the city should look for in a city manager, residents were asked to respond to a six-question survey.

The online survey was released in both English and Spanish and questions included:

●      What are the four to five most important issues facing Healdsburg that the new city manager should help the city council to address?

●      What are the most critical skills and experiences the new city manager should have to succeed in Healdsburg?

●      What management and leadership attributes should the next city manager have?

●      How would you like the city manager to interact with the community? Please consider the communication tools that respond best to your needs as a resident or a business owner.

●      One of the many attributes of Healdsburg is its small-town character. If you were emphasizing this point with the city manager candidates, please tell us what “small town character” means to you, so that this sense can be effectively conveyed to the candidates.

●      What else would you like the council to consider when hiring a city manager?

The survey received around 120 responses and received only a few Spanish responses. Results from the survey were posted to the city’s website.

Councilmember Joe Naujokas asked what efforts were done to reach out to the Spanish speaking community for input.

Healdsburg interim City Manager Dave Kiff said they advertised the survey on social media in both English and Spanish and reached out to Corazón Healdsburg.

Councilmember Ozzy Jimenez opined that it seems like a rigid approach to community input and expressed concern that marginalized communities may not have been able to offer input because not everyone has access to technology or the internet. He asked what Phillips has done in the past with other communities to address the concern and reach more people.

Phillips said the COVID-19 pandemic makes previous ways of outreach difficult. He said in the past what he’s done is physically go to the community to get feedback in person. Under the current circumstances, he believes the city received a good amount of feedback.

Those who spoke during the town hall echoed what was said in the survey response, and said they want a city manager that has a good lens for cultural awareness and diversity, someone who recognizes the need for language equity, someone who can work collaboratively with city staff and someone who can work well under stress.

“It’s important to have someone who has a good eye on cultural awareness and how racism can affect the community and someone who’s had previous experience shifting the culture dynamic of a community would be excellent. I want to include the importance of language justice because I know it’s been discussed several times among council to include Spanish documentation and translation, but it’s been inconsistent on how it’s been implemented,” said resident and city council candidate, Skylaer Palacios.

Resident Walter Neiderberger said a good city manager should be able to handle a crisis well and adequately manage a city staff.

“With the triple crisis we have right now, economic, health and potentially fire, I hope that the council will look at a city manager who enables and motivates people, especially city staff,” Niederberger said.

In terms of experience, folks said having a city manager with experience in master planning and general planning would be a plus. People also said it would be good to have someone who is able to dive headfirst into the job and to be able to work well in gathering community input and engagement on important issues.

“In terms of the skills and experience what I wanted to add, is that I would really like to see a city manager that has experience and a track record in extensive master planning and general planning efforts and can incorporate substantial community engagement,” said resident Deborah Kravitz.

Resident Mark McMullen shared that a good city manager should be able to work well with others and collaborate often with different departments.

“It’s really important to have somebody that is collaborative, somebody that wants to work with all of the staff within the city to bring all of the departments together to solve problems, but to also reach out the community,” McMullen said.

To that end, Kravitz said she would love to see a city manager with experience using a variety of engagement platforms.

Next step

The application period for the position just closed and according to Phillips there are 65 applicants.

“We got a really good response,” Phillips said. “Now what we’ll do is use this input from the community to help shape our screening of candidates.” 

The city council will review the candidate applications in a closed session meeting and there will be a couple of interviews completed in order to narrow down the candidate field.

Vice Mayor Shaun McCaffery asked why the council has to review candidates in a closed session meeting and noted that he’s received this question from constituents.

Phillips said a lot of the candidates are current city managers and due to this reason, they don’t want to reveal the candidates so as to not jeopardize the applicants’ current job.

“If that’s the case then they are reporting to an elected body themselves and if their name got out there in the public then that could put their current job in jeopardy, so we want to be able to protect the confidentiality until they’ve been selected by council,” Phillips said.

The goal is to get someone on board with the city before the end of this year.

To view the online survey results, visit: https://www.ci.healdsburg.ca.us/992/City-Manager-Recruitment.

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