Franklin County commissioners are asking the county’s human resources department to look at outside firms to search for a new county administrator after getting pressure from county leaders.
Commissioner Rick Miller brought up the need to find more candidates just before the end of Wednesday’s commission meeting.
He said the process of finding a replacement for longtime Administrator Fred Bowen has been moving slowly.
Just 13 applicants have applied since the position was posted March 27.
“I’d like to see more of a pool,” he said.
Commissioner Bob Koch also wanted to see additional qualified candidates.
“I did look at a few (candidates) a week ago, and I would have picked a couple out (for further consideration),” he said after the meeting. “But the majority don’t even follow the job description.”
The instructions to Human Resources Director Carlee Nave do not mean the county is definitely hiring an outside agency, or that it will not consider people who have already applied, said commission Chairman Brad Peck.
“It just means we haven’t gotten as many applicants as we had hoped for,” he said.
The move comes after an April 16 letter from five Franklin County elected officials urging the commissioners to hire an executive search firm.
“While we believe the internal process can work, the county administrator is an important executive-level position that we all work closely with and would like to see the most comprehensive search and selection process utilized,” said the letter co-signed by Auditor Matt Beaton, Treasurer Josie Koelzer, Assessor Steve Marks, Clerk Mike Killian and Coroner Dan Blasdel. “We consider the cost of that process a good investment and encourage the commissioners to take that step.”
Beaton sent commissioners an email days earlier, along with a proposal from The Prothman Company of Issaquah, the same firm Pasco paid $19,500 last year to find candidates for a new city manager.
Beaton wrote that he was convinced of the need for a search firm after attending an open house for four Pasco School District superintendent candidates and seeing the high-quality finalists that search firm produced.
Prothman proposed an $18,500 fee, plus expenses to conduct the search. Its proposal also said it helped find city officials for positions in Othello and Hermiston in recent years, as well as county officials in Snohomish County and Deschutes County, Ore.
Beaton wrote that the estimated cost of $25,000 is four-hundredths of a percent of the $60 million annual budget the county administrator will oversee.
The administrator assists the county commissioners, particularly on budget issues. He or she also helps oversee non-elected departments like public works, planning and building and the TRAC event center. The annual salary range is listed as $116,000 to $121,000. Bowen made just more than $113,000.
“There are other firms, and I have no allegiance to any particular search firm, just the process,” Beaton wrote. “The use of an executive recruitment firm is a standard practice for hiring high-level management within municipalities.”
Prothman’s recent experience gives it insight into the quality of life and economy of the county, Peck said.
Commissioners could take a more formal vote on a search firm at their April 29 meeting.
Human resources officials started reviewing candidates after an initial April 10 deadline.
Several changes have been made to the job qualifications for Franklin County administrator since 1995, when Bowen initially took the job.
The earlier version, obtained by the Herald through a public records request, lists minimum education qualifications as a bachelor’s degree in public administration, business administration or a related field.
The current job description says the only educational requirement is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.
The earlier requirements also ask for at least four years in a “responsible capacity in government administration, budgeting, fiscal management, program management or allied field.”
The current description asks for four years of “progressively responsible organizational management experience, preferably in the public sector.”
By comparison, Benton County requires its county administrator to have a bachelor’s degree in public administration, with a master’s degree preferred. It also asks for five years of professional-level governmental administration experience, including budgeting and program management.
Bowen retired from his job as Franklin County administrator in February, taking a job in Benton County’s public works department.
After he left, the commissioners changed the job description. Commissioners say they gave consensus for the description at a recent meeting, without taking a formal vote. They also gave suggestions to human resources staff about qualifications.
Local governments involved with hiring decisions must be careful about keeping certain job description discussions public, Assistant Attorney General Nancy Krier, the office’s ombudsman for public records and meetings, told the Herald.
Discussions on general job descriptions that don’t involve specific applicants must be held in open session under the Open Public Meetings Act, she said.
Individual meetings with staff about job openings by a quorum of board members also creates a problem, Krier said.
“If you’re wanting to get input from a quorum of a board on how to proceed in this kind of thing, that needs to be done at an open meeting,” she said.
Krier said the law allows commissioners to give consensus to staff in a public meeting on such matters, as opposed to taking a vote.