PHOENIX — City Council members are narrowing a list of applicants in a selection process that would put a new city manager in place by July.
Previously concerned about budget constraints, city officials are looking for an entry-level candidate who would work for five days each week for 80 percent of the current full-time city manager salary. Council members are also seeking a replacement who already lives in the Rogue Valley.
Prior to Eli Naffah, Phoenix's city managers in recent years have left under tumultuous circumstances.
City manager Jane Turner was hired as interim manager in March 2008, and agreed to remain through several contract extensions. But she resigned in February 2012 after allegations surfaced that two council members had attempted to intimidate and micromanage her.
The city settled with Turner for a $60,000 severance in exchange for her agreement not to sue the city. Turner's predecessor, Joe Wrabek, was dismissed after one year, following closed personnel discussions that divided the City Council and resulted in the resignation of the police chief.
Interim City Manager Dale Shaddox held the post prior to Wrabek while attempting to help the city navigate budget shortfalls that generated heated discussions over a controversial water rate surcharge.
Interim city manager Eli Naffah has worked part-time for more than one year and, despite discussions last year to increase his availability by July, city officials have decided to move forward in the search for a full-time manager.
Naffah has worked three days on-site and some hours from off-site at his home in Crescent City, making for a 32-hour work week.
Mayor Jeff Bellah said the city decided this winter to advertise for a locally based city manager.
Bellah said the hiring process yielded about 20 applicants with a wide range of backgrounds, ranging from city management to engineering and financial to non-profit experience.
"We've had Eli for a year-and-a-half and always considered him an interim manager," Bellah said. "It's become a situation where, with all the stuff going on for the future with the (freeway) interchange and all the economic development potential, we've always felt that we needed a full-time city manager who lives here."
Naffah said he understood the city's predicament and never expected to be offered the position full time. Naffah said he did not apply for the full-time position because he was not willing to sell his home and relocate his family.
"They want someone who lives here and I knew that," Naffah said. "Even someone from Grants Pass would have to move for the city manager position. I was fine with the community and they've been working with me realizing I could only do the three days a week.
"I've enjoyed being there as an interim and for the time I have been."
Bellah said the change in job description would save the city money and enable the city to benefit from existing local leadership with ties to the community.
"What was really neat is they were all here locally and know something about the valley," Bellah said. "All the finalists we're considering have high potential to be very involved in Phoenix and have a lot of contacts in county and city governments."
"I think we're going to end up with a person that could really develop into a strong leader for Phoenix. We just kept thinking, 'We're an entry level portal so why are we always looking for an experienced city manager when we're really the type of city that a first-time city manager would really want to go to?'"
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.