Council to host two manager candidates

By Sean C. Morgan
Lebanon Local
The Lebanon City Council voted 3-2 to hold in-person interviews of its top two city manager candidates in late June as long as Linn County enters Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan.
The council interviewed five candidates, who have not been announced, by video conferencing late last month. The council has been searching for a new city manager since the resignation of Gary Marks last summer.
Councilors Rebecca Grizzle and Karin Stauder objected to waiting for Phase 2, while Jason Bolen, Michelle Steinhebel and Robert Furlow voted to make the interviews contingent on entering Phase 2. Wayne Rieskamp was absent.
The council met in executive session, which is closed to the public, to discuss candidates following its regular meeting held Wednesday evening, May 13. The council re-entered open session to take action in public.
Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday, May 14, listed Linn County as one of 28 counties approved to move into Phase 1. The governor’s plan allows counties to enter a second phase after a minimum of 21 days in Phase 1, but the criteria for entering Phase 2 and the details of reopening in that phase remain unknown.
“I’m a no,” Grizzle told the council. “I believe that during Phase 1, it may not matter.”
And if entering Phase 1 is the requirement, she said, it could be December before the council has a chance to interview candidates in person.
“We don’t even know what Phase 2 looks like,” Stauder said. The state Police Academy has found ways to hold classes, and Stauder said she thinks the city can do the same for in-person interviews. “This is something new. We’re going to have to be able to move and adapt.”
Steinhebel said that the council has already delayed the process for the holidays and then again to avoid starting a new city manager during budget preparation this spring, and during a pandemic, the council doesn’t get to make that decision. Furlow agreed.
Bolen said he wanted to ensure the involvement of staff and members of the public.
If Linn County enters Phase 1 this week, then it may be in Phase 2 anyway by late June, he said, and it’s important to take the time to do it right.
Grizzle agreed that involving the public is important, but she doesn’t view the next step as part of the public phase, but rather a chance for the council itself to interview the candidates in person prior to a public event.
Mayor Paul Aziz explained that the councilors want to interview the candidates in person to decide whether to go forward with them. The video-conference interviews had technical issues, and the councilors had difficulty seeing the candidates. City staff had the same issue, and they want to interview the candidates in person before making decisions.
City Attorney Tre Kennedy said he interpreted the motion to allow the council to interview candidates in person at the end of June if the county is in Phase 2. Rather than waiting for Phase 2 to begin later in the year, the council could revisit the question at the end of June if the county did not reach Phase 2.
The council cut the number of candidates from five to two, Bolen said, and this is historically the time where the council involves community stakeholders and department directors. Waiting until Phase 2 gives the city the flexibility to have the in-person interviews and also a larger public event.
Interim City Manager Ron Whitlach said he will begin tentatively planning for the council’s regular second meeting date, June 24, adjusting the date as needed.
The council did not name any candidates or finalists during the meeting.