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'Flawed' hiring of city manager not going to happen again

Two Medford city councilors say they will dig deeper to avoid a “flawed” recruitment process that led to the selection of the former Medford city manager who was fired June 4.

Councilor Dick Gordon said the council should play a more active role in vetting the candidates and should also be prepared to restart the search if suitable candidates don’t come forward.

“The process was flawed last time, and we need to fix it,” Gordon said. “I’m not going to let that happen again.”

Gordon, who made the motion June 4 to fire City Manager Eric Swanson, said Swanson got the job by default because the other finalists had issues.

“In one case, we were being used so one of the candidates could get a better contract with his council,” Gordon said.

Another candidate didn’t have the skill set the city was looking for, Gordon said.

Councilors criticized Swanson for trying to manage them, rather than the council managing him. They also cited ongoing issues between Swanson and the Medford Chamber of Commerce as a reason for his termination.

Swanson was hired in summer 2012 at an annual salary of $145,008 to replace Mike Dyal. Before that, he was city manager in Roseburg for seven years. During the hiring process, Bill Hoke, deputy city manager, will work as city manager pro tem.

During the last candidate search in 2012, four applicants became finalists based largely on the findings of a headhunting agency hired by the city.

“We basically made a decision based on on-site interviews without having done internal vetting of the candidates,” Gordon said.

Councilor Chris Corcoran also said he was disappointed in the finalists during the last go-round.

Corcoran said he’s unsure whether market conditions at the time limited the number of candidates, or if the consultant hired to help in the selection process failed to do enough background checking.

“I think we need to do a better job of vetting the consultant, as well,” he said.

The council, which might take up to a year or longer to find a new city manager, needs to do a better job looking into the backgrounds of the candidates, Corcoran said.

Last time, the city had a citizens’ committee and a council committee review the candidates and will do so again, Corcoran said.

Corcoran and Gordon said a contingent of councilors will need to travel to the cities where the candidates are currently working to gather local reactions.

The city will have to use an outside consulting agency to conduct the search because the council anticipates that a candidate who works inside the city likely will apply.

Corcoran said the city’s competitive salary and benefits package, as well as having an appealing community to live in, should attract a strong field of applicants.

Gordon and Corcoran are the only councilors left who were in office when Swanson was hired.

In retrospect, Gordon said, the council should have interviewed more people in the communities where the candidates lived.

Councilor Kevin Stine said he’s in no hurry to hire someone new.

“We’re saving money by not having a city manager,” he said.

He said he would like to conduct the search differently by picking out what was good in the last process and discarding what was bad.

Despite the best efforts to hire a candidate, Stine said, it’s always difficult to determine how someone will do until they are on the job.

“In some aspects, it’s a crap shoot,” he said. “You’re hoping you can get lucky.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.