"Thomas Marcus is New City Manager," Iowa City Press-Citizen Online, Sept. 29, 2010, 3:05 p.m.
Josh O'Leary, "Markus: Iowa City a Good Fit; Council Says Mich. Official Was Unanimous Pick," Iowa City Press Citizen, Sept. 30, 2010, p. A1.
(bought to you by FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com*)
As the citizens of Iowa City watch, and participate, in their City Council's selection of the next City Manager, we would do well to heed the observation of Forest Gump's mother. As Gump put it, "My mama always said 'life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get.'" "Forest Gump" (1994).
So it is with City Managers. You never know what you are going to get.
But Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek and colleagues have made an effort to improve our odds.
An innovation that can only be characterized as a no-brainer after you've heard about it, is the involvement of all the City commissions and offices plus the former mayors of the City.
We tend to overlook what former officials can bring to the table by way of history, insights, and experience. That's not to take away from the current Council members. The responsibility for selecting the next City Manager falls on them, and them only. But it's more than a nice gesture to involve their predecessors in the process.
And involving the City offices and wide range of commissions not only gives them more of a buy-in to the ultimate choice -- and the candidates a better sense of policy issues and personalities -- but may well catch relevant reactions to questions of candidates that might otherwise have gone unasked and unnoticed.
Then there was this morning's [Sept. 28] "meet and greet" at the Iowa City Public Library Meeting Room A. Josh O'Leary, "City Manager Finalists Meet With Public," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 28, 2010. There was a nice turnout, especially for an early morning meeting. I commented to one of the Council members and one of the candidates that a consequence of 7:30 a.m. meetings is that you're not likely to get much participation from union members, other working class citizens, or those who work and live elsewhere than in downtown Iowa City, with its expensive condos and apartments. There appeared to me to be a disproportionate representation of downtown business persons and professionals. But the fact that the opportunity to hear and see the three finalists was made available under any conditions was clearly a plus, and certainly seemed well received by those who came.
And the Press-Citizen had provided us with a great list of the questions to ask. Editorial, "Learn What You Can About City Manager Finalists," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 28, 2010, p. A7 (e.g., "How familiar are you with communities in which a public university is the major employer?" and "How well do you understand TIFs, and what is your philosophy on when they should be used . . .?").
Here's a picture of Paul Eckert (eight years as Sioux City, Iowa, city manager) in an exchange within a group that gathered around him following the presentations. (The back of that lush head of hair of Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth, a friend of Eckert's -- that is, Kelly, not his hair -- is in the foreground).
Eckert and Steven Crowell (city manager North Port, Florida, for five years) sit at the table in this picture, while Thomas Markus (22 years as city manager of Birmingham, Michigan) delivers his formal, prepared remarks.
The City Council is scheduled to go into closed session this evening (Sept. 28) at 5:30, and reconvene at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow, at which time there may be an announcement of the final choice.
I would announce my own "final choice" after superficial study, but I wouldn't want to hurt his chances by revealing it.
However, I should note that given the possibility Iowa City's downtown will revert to a jungle of drunken beasts between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. on Thursdays through Sundays, following the vote November 2, it should be noted that Eckert, a former Marine Corps Sargent, came complete with brothers in arms, three very nattily dressed Marines. Just in case the new riot gear the Iowa City Police are getting is inadequate to protect them from the violent rowdies, it might be convenient to have a City Manager who can "send in the Marines." Just a thought.
Of course, even with a City Manager, the Council and Manager will still confront the problems of which I wrote over 18 months ago: "River City's Problem: Council-Manager Governance; The Necessity of Governance Theory and Practice," April 18, 2009 -- if the new City Manager, whoever he may be, is to have a chance at a longer tenure than the last one.
Josh O'Leary, "City Manager Field Narrowed to 3; Finalists Meet Public Today," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 28, 2010, p. A1; Josh O'Leary, "Hopefuls Make Case to Public; Council Plans to Make Decision Today," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 29, 2010, p. A1.
* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson