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Inappropriate process used to hire excellent city manager

The Decatur City Council will approve a contract for its next city manager at its meeting on April 1.  I welcome back Mr. Tim Gleason to our beloved home, look forward to working with him in the years ahead, and wish him tremendous success in making our city of 69,000 residents a better place to live.

Unfortunately, the process by which Mr. Gleason will be hired exemplifies and exasperates one of the long-term challenges our city faces – the limited opportunities for top positions among underrepresented groups and those who want to experience all that Decatur has to offer for the first time.  When at least 4 of 7 members of the council want a candidate, they can move forward with a process that does not seek applications from interested parties, does not involve interviewing multiple candidates, yet does provide an exceptional compensation package to the individual selected.  Lack of due diligence by the city council can decrease trust, erode confidence, and lead to questions regarding fair representation in local government. 


The appointment of a city manager without competition is not in the city's best interest.  The majority of council members sent a message to women, persons of color, current city employees, and executives from across the country that our best opportunities are not for you and the top position in city government with a total annual compensation >$250,000 will not be available to you regardless of your interest, background and qualifications.  Instead of modeling best practices for attracting the best and brightest, the majority of our city council decided to erect an impenetrable ceiling for the top government position, and in the process, top talent is correct in asking: Is there opportunity for me in Decatur? 

Currently, over 60 of the best men’s and women’s basketball teams are competing for a national championship.  The ultimate champion will have played and beaten the best teams.  Seemingly, some on the Decatur City Council would prefer that instead of competition, they simply select who they think is the best team without ever playing a game.  The process chosen by the council is the antithesis of the competitive bidding process used for millions of dollars in annual city spending to ensure that residents receive the best products and services at the best price.  (For the record, Tim Gleason indicated his willingness to go through a competitive process, as I would expect any excellent candidate to want to do).


Some will argue that the only way for a city manager to be ready on day one is for that person to already have great familiarity with the city.  However, many of the challenges that the city faces are not unique.  It is fair to say that you don’t have to be from Decatur to manage the revenue loss from the possible elimination of the grocery tax.  It is also fair to say that the best way to reverse population decline would be to have a leader who has done it before.  Finally, it is fair to say that people who bring new ideas and a fresh perspective can reinvigorate a community. 

Decatur continues to experience substantial population decline, and we will need innovators and a spirit of entrepreneurship to reverse our loss.  Is our next city manager the best person for Decatur's top job?  We will never know, but unequivocally, we have lost the opportunity to find out, and in the process, made it clear that Decatur's top position is not open to everyone regardless of their background and experience. 

Despite my strongest objections to the process, and the realization that the process will likely inhibit the ability of Decatur to attract top talent, restrict opportunities for individuals of diverse backgrounds, and decrease public trust in local officials, I look forward to working with Mr. Gleason.  His knowledge and background of Decatur should serve our residents well for many years to come. 

Horn for Decatur
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