September 25, 2023

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Seek the Best

Some time ago Lawrence city officials announced a national search would be made to identify possible candidates for the soon-to-be vacated City Manager position.

Last week it was announced the national search had been narrowed to two individuals working and living a relatively few miles from Lawrence. One in Olathe and the other in Clayton, Missouri.

Hopefully, these two individuals are indeed two of the best; individuals who have compiled records that place them among the very best in the nation for a city the size of Lawrence.

Lawrence needs a top-flight city manager who, with a forward-looking city commission, can help shift the city’s gears and return Lawrence to the city of past years recognized regionally and nationally for its vitality, pride, vision, leadership and its ideal location….all of which combine to make Lawrence a great place for business and industry as well as a wonderful community in which to live, work and play.

A headhunter’s job is to find an individual they think would be a winner for Lawrence. That’s it. Next it is up to city officials and other interested citizens to weed out the approximate 20 or so semi-finalists to then select the two finalists they believe have the talent and experience to meet the needs of Lawrence.

This calls for deep and comprehensive due diligence, something that may have been missing in past reviews of applicants for important positions at both Lawrence and Kansas University.

Ideally, both city officials and other citizens would schedule person-to-person visits with Olathe and Clayton, Missouri residents to learn as much as they can about each candidate. Are they sad or happy that the individuals may be leaving? What are the good, weak and bad highlights of each candidate? Would these citizens want to try to talk the candidates out of leaving and remain in Olathe or Clayton? Why not? Where have they excelled and when have they disappointed?

Every possible question should be asked so that six or so months after the hiring citizens are not asking, “Why didn’t we do a better job of vetting our new city manager?”

Both finalists will have an opportunity to meet and greet local citizens and each will try to make an excellent presentation making every effort to avoid stepping on toes. Both will say how much they appreciate the opportunity to move into the city manager’s office and emphasize the opportunities as well as the challenges the city faces. Unfortunately, such events do little to provide much hard evidence relative to the skills and excellence of the candidates.

A backdrop to the city manager situation is the upcoming election for three positions on the city commission.

Two of the five-member commission will continue to serve on the commission but three seats are up for grabs. These three commissioners could be re-elected or there could be three new commissioners.

Just as the selection of a new city manager calls for — demands — a careful, deep, personal and professional investigation….so does the selection of those seeking a position on the city commission.

These two offices, city manager and city commissioner, and the individuals who hold these positions play a tremendously important, critical role in the future of Lawrence. Perhaps more so today than in past years as Lawrence and KU have been drifting in recent years with many suggesting this has happened due to questionable policies and leadership. Rather than strong, visionary and inspiring leadership, there has been far too much concern about possibly offending or disappointing some citizens when tough, bold decisions are far better for the overall city. “Political correctness” and not having the courage to speak out and ask questions that should be asked has weakened and stunted Lawrence.

Lawrence voters should have a sizeable list of highly qualified individuals seeking voter support for a seat on the city commission. Why don’t more highly qualified individuals seek positions such as city commissioners or the school board?

Also, it is important those serving as city manager and city commissioner are guided and motivated by what is in the best interest of the community rather than flying the flags of special interests. Likewise, these individuals should make every effort to maintain good, honest and mutually beneficial relationships with county and university officials. Unfortunately, relations between city hall and the county courthouse have not been as good as they should be and there could be more cooperative relationships between the university, city hall and the community.

A lot rides on the selection of a new city manager and city commissioners.