Now Reading
City navigates change with sound policy and process

City navigates change with sound policy and process

Things and people are changing at the city of Columbia. Although the wave of recent and pending departures by the city manager, finance director, fire chief, cultural affairs manager and director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau might seem to be a ripple effect, in actuality, each departure can be attributed to uniquely personal circumstances.

Margrace Buckler
Margrace Buckler is director of the city of Columbia's Human Resources department.
What is unusual is the fact that the city has had relatively few changes in administration in the past five to 10 years. Considering the demographics of our 20 directors and senior staff members and the city’s general 10 percent employee turnover rate, we could have easily seen an average of two departures per year.
The current round of turnover might seem to be an anomaly, but we have experienced significant waves of change during the past 20 years.
•    Mid-1980s: Director appointments in Law, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Fire and Economic Development (REDI)
•    Late 1990s: Director appointments in Finance, Human Resources, Parks and Recreation and Public Health
•   Early to Mid-2000s: Director/Manager appointments in Information Technology, Cultural Affairs, Volunteer Services, Planning, Public Works and an assistant city manager
•   Mid- to Late 2000: Appointments of a new city manager for the first time in 20 years, a second assistant city manager and new directors in Public Communications, Water and Light, Police, Joint Communications–Emergency Management, Economic Development (REDI) and an internal auditor
•   2011: There will be a new city manager and director/manager appointments in Fire, Finance, Convention and Visitors Bureau and Cultural Affairs
In accordance with the City Charter, the City Council is responsible for hiring the city manager. In preparation of Bill Watkins’ retirement March 11, the Human Resources department is providing logistical support while Affion Public conducts a national search on behalf of the City Council. The application process closes Feb. 18. Once finalists are identified, there will be a public process, including city tours and public events along with formal meetings and final interviews with City Council.
By City Charter, the city manager is responsible for filling staff positions and works closely with the Human Resources department to facilitate the process. The city manager invites community members with relevant areas of expertise to serve on a screening committee. Screening committees play an important advisory role, which in some cases might include evaluating current job descriptions and providing feedback on how to update qualifications to meet the community’s changing needs.
Once applications are received, Human Resources provides a chart (or matrix) with essential information about the applicants. The screening committee (including the city manager) uses the matrix to identify a select list of qualified applicants. From there, the committee might conduct phone interviews to narrow the list further or go straight into the interview process.
The interview process takes one and a half to two days. It generally includes written exercises, formal presentations and interviews with the screening committee, tours and meetings with key staff members and public meet-and-greets, as well as time with the media and other community stakeholders.
After the interviews, the screening committee meets as a group to discuss their impressions with the city manager, but they do not rank the candidates or take a vote. At this point, the city manager might have follow-up meetings with the finalists, talk to outside references or even visit the applicant’s current community before making the final decision.
We currently have screening committees working at various stages for Finance, Fire, Cultural Affairs and the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
•    Finance: The committee has reviewed applications. Top candidates will be invited for interviews in early February. The goal is to have a new director in place before March 11.
•    Fire: The committee will conduct phone interviews on Feb. 9. Top candidate interviews will likely occur the last full week of February. The goal is to have a decision by March 11.
•    Cultural Affairs: The screening committee has conducted telephone interviews. The date for interviewing top candidates is still to be determined. The goal is to have a decision by March 11.
•    Convention and Visitors Bureau: The screening committee will be named in early February, with final details to be worked out.
As we go through current changes, it is important to prepare for future transitions as more managers consider retirement.
In his June 2009 State of the City address, City Manager Bill Watkins proposed a workforce capital improvement plan for retaining and building human infrastructure for years to come. The city’s talent strategy committee has helped develop a training program to identify up-and-coming supervisors and managers and to give them the skills and tools they need to become well-rounded leaders.
Additionally, the city has begun laying the foundation of a new commitment to quality called Journey to Excellence, or J2E. By aligning these programs, we are working to create an organizational culture that strives for excellence and a workforce that navigates whatever changes might come our way.

What's Your Reaction?
Not Sure

404 Portland St, Ste C | Columbia, MO 65201 | 573-499-1830
© 2023 COMO Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
Website Design by Columbia Marketing Group

Scroll To Top