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Kanner hired in Phoenix; residents unhappy with process

Phoenix City Council hired Dave Kanner as interim city manager Tuesday at a meeting in which several citizens sounded off about their unhappiness with the March 8 firing of City Manager Jamie McLeod and the way business is conducted in the city.

During the public comment period of Tuesday's council meeting, eight speakers were critical of city practices in hiring, conducting business and holding meetings. Kanner will be the fourth manager in 10 months. About 50 people filled the meeting space in the Public Works Office.

“Constant change in the position makes everybody feel insecure. Vision doesn’t take hold, and how can we develop long-term plans?” said Annie Drager. “When (the city) makes mistakes and they keep happening, we wonder why. Mistrust is the biggest issue we have to deal with.”

Problems in the city manager position didn’t begin with McLeod, said Pastor Mike Foster of First Presbyterian Church, noting the firing of Steve Dahl in May 2016. Hiring processes have been questionable, he said.

“We have yet again another hand-picked interim put forward as the only option we have,” said Foster, referring to a special meeting held March 13 at which Mayor Chris Luz brought Kanner in as an interim candidate before a hiring process was discussed or the position advertised.

Prior to public comments, Luz spoke for 20 minutes to explain why McLeod was terminated and to detail both the firing and hiring process and timelines. Luz called for whoever was named interim manager to investigate and report within 45 days on allegations made by McLeod, including a serious lack of checks and balances, unaddressed human resource issues, potential violations of state ethics and open meeting laws, and inaccurate communication.

“I felt (the termination) was not done in a business-like manner,” said Judy Grillo. “I got along well with Jamie. You didn’t ask the citizens. Shame on you.”

Caroline Marshall criticized the council for not seeking mediation with McLeod over alleged management style issues with employees.

“We are going to shed a light," she said. "We need to find out what is rumor and what is fact.”

Former Mayor Jeff Bellah, who served until this year, said he got into city politics because he was embarrassed by decisions the city made that drew attention from local media.

“I was disappointed … because I thought we had a good chance of having a city manager who would stay,” said Bellah.

Kanner is a former Deschutes County administrator, and he was terminated as city administrator in Ashland in November. Kanner will serve for six months and will not be a candidate for the permanent position.

Former Ashland Public Works Director Paula Brown also applied for the position. Brown had extensive management experience in the U.S. Navy Reserve, where she was a rear admiral until retiring in October. Brown was traveling and attempts to arrange a phone interview during the meeting did not work out. Brown did not meet city manager experience criteria for the position.

Councilor Terry Baker said the council should begin doing what it says by not considering Brown, because she didn’t meet criteria, before he made a motion to hire Kanner. Baker and councilors Bruce Sophie, Stuart Warren and Sarah Westover voted to hire Kanner. Councilor Jim Snyder abstained, saying that he had contractual relationship with Brown.

Kanner said he’s cautious about conflating widespread community sentiment with the expressions of people who showed up at the meeting. The mayor and council have given him the sense that they are committed to the need to observe public meeting laws and to doing the public’s business in the open, he said.

“There’s a lot of work to do, but it’s like eating an elephant, it's one bite at a time,” said Kanner. “The No. 1 priority needs to be getting the budget done. We are pushing against statutory deadlines. The No. 2 priority is getting a search started for a permanent city manager. If we do this right ... it will take six months.”

In other business, Mike Shunk was selected to fill a vacant seat on the council created when Luz became mayor. The term will run through December 2018.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail. com.

Dave Kanner